The Hokey-Pokey of Ministry Today

blogpic.HokeypokeyCharge to the Congregation for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Daniel R. Anderson-Little as Pastor of Legacy Presbyterian Church, Frisco, Texas; October 1, 2017

Ministry today is often more about asking good questions than providing answers. Recent research says that congregations who, like Legacy, want to reach out to Millennials and their families need to ask themselves some good questions—questions such as:

• Is our church authentic? Younger generations are looking for transparency and honesty.
• Does our church embrace social media and communicate digitally? Another good question.
• Does our church create space for rest? We love to get stuff done. Feeding the hungry and building habitat houses is wonderful and important work. But in our fast-paced, fragmented culture, people are equally in need of spirituality and a space to let go of their burdens and stresses.

When I first met the members of the Nominating Committee last May, we went to Babe’s for dinner. The family-style meal embodied the characteristics found in these three questions. It gave us a chance to build authentic relationships and to communicate our needs, as we decided upon and shared our food. We took pictures so we could connect with others on social media. The occasion provided a respite from the stresses of the job interview and our respective daily lives, as we got to know one another at a deeper level.

At one point, I excused myself to find the restroom. On my way back to the table, a whole line-up of waitstaff were doing the Hokey-Pokey. Not realizing that this was a staff-only performance, I jumped onto the end of the line and joined them in singing and dancing the Hokey-Pokey. You remember that last verse, don’t you, put in your whole self in? I need you get up and sing it with me!

You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about!

This begs one more question as we engage in the mission of the church: What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?

• You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, your whole, authentic, transparent and honest self—successes and struggles, hopes and fears, convictions and questions.
• You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with social media, creating multiple points of connection throughout the week rather than just on Sunday mornings.
• And you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with being as well as doing, engaging in your own spiritual growth, and creating space at church for rest and sabbath.
• Most of all, you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, and shake it all about—shake out and shake off what doesn’t work, learn from it, move on, and try again. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), but everything else can be reimagined.

For we believe in a turnaround God who turns blindness around into sight!
We believe in a turnaround God who turns sinners around into disciples!
We believe in a turnaround God who turns death around into resurrection and new life!

So my charge to you is simple, Legacy Presbyterian Church of Frisco, Texas: Do the Hokey-Pokey—because today, that’s what ministry is all about!

Write comment (4 Comments)

Getting in the Flow of Eternity Now

blogpic.EternityHeartGod has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart. ~Eccl. 3:11

This past Saturday I led a Women’s Retreat called, Savor the Moment. We talked about our need to re-imagine time. Since God has “planted eternity in our hearts,” by creating us in the beginning of time through the Word (John 1:1-3) and redeemed us through the resurrection of Christ for eternal life (John 3:15-16), why are we always so pressed for and boxed in by time? Can we re-imagine how to think about and use time in a way that frees us to be in the flow of eternity?

When I was in high school and college, I sincerely believed that the fuller my calendar, the better person I was. A calendar with no free spaces meant that I was accomplishing a great deal, having an impact, being a “good” person. Perfectionism. Ugh--what an awful way to live! I thought it was what I was supposed to do to be a “worthy” person, deserving of love and good things. That is, until I ended up with stage 2b cancer followed by chronic migraines. Our bodies don’t think that perfectionism and over-functioning makes us morally good; in fact, I have found out the hard way that my body doesn’t like this life style at all.

How then do we choose what to do and what to set aside? What to commit to and what to pass up? What gets us in the flow of life and frees us up to savor the moments? I learned a terrific discernment tool from a 12-step cassette tape a friend loaned to me several years ago. I have used this rubric many times to help me figure out what activities/hobbies/volunteering to do (or not do) as well as bigger decisions, like vocation and calling. It’s helped me say, “no” to requests and commitments without guilt! Just imagine!

You can use this tool to decide what activity to begin, or what activity to stop doing. You can use this to discern what relationships are healthy and which ones suck the life out of you. It works best if you make a “date” with yourself and God to reflect, pray and journal about these four areas:

Desire--God works through our desires—what is it that I really want to do, that tugs at my heart, that excites and interests me?
Ability—Do I have the ability and skills to do this activity/job, or do I need additional training? Ability can also relate to aging—is this something I can physically do without causing harm to my well-being?
Time—Do I have the time for this activity, and if not, is there something else I am ready to release to make time?
Energy—Do I have the passion to sustain this activity? When I imagine myself engaged in this activity, is it life-giving or energy-draining?

Only when we have all for elements of DATE—Desire, Ability, Time and Energy—do we have a calling from God or a “great fit” for us. It’s hard to savor the moment and be mindfully present when what we’re doing is life-sucking, and not deeply satisfying.

I used this tool when I felt led to go back into parish ministry after spending nine years at home with my children and running a home business. When I refelcted on DATE in my prayers, I realized I no longer had the passion/energy for my business, but when it came to imagining being a pastor again, I had all for qualities!

There may be a reason or a value we hold that leads us to continue in a job or activity in which we do not experience all four qualities. For example, we may continue in a job we don’t have the passion for because we provide our family’s health insurance. We can bring that experience to prayer as well, and ask God how we might receive all four qualities in that job or activity to which we need to remain committed. And, it becomes even more important, then, to have our other activities be something in which we experience all four characteristics of DATE.

What does life feel like when you have the Desire, Ability, Time, and Energy to engage in something you love? We’re more focused, more alive and in the flow of life when we do those activities. We have the mental and emotional freedom to savor what we’re doing, to re-imagine time and to be fully present in the moment. We can experience a bit of that eternity God has planted in our heart. Give it a try and leave a comment below (email or FB message) and let me know what you discover!


Write comment (1 Comment)

Bringing Faith and Science Together

blogpic FaithandScienceHow do we talk about our Christian faith in a way that connects with the spiritual but not religious? The scientific mind? The unbeliever? How might we use the normal course of events in church life to open up conversation and connection with people who think and believe differently from us?

Yesterday I officiated at a funeral for a beloved husband and son who died of cancer in his 50’s. He was a scientist—an engineer who worked in the area of national defense, and while raised Catholic, did not believe in God or any ultimate being. I suspected that many who attended his service felt the same way—yet his wife and much of his family are all Christians. In the last part of the funeral, I attempted to blend faith and science together, speaking both to the believer and unbeliever and to bring the truth of both experiences into one narrative. This service did not follow a traditional order of Scripture readings, Sermon, Prayers, but rather wove each of these into three sections that moved people emotionally from grief and lament to thanksgiving for the person’s life, and finally to hope and guidance in moving forward (I’m indebted to my father-in-law, The Rev. G. Daniel Little for this brilliant way of doing funeral and memorial services). What follows is the last section of seeking hope anew. I have changed the names to maintain the privacy of the family (and you can tell from the last line that he loved Star Trek!).

Finally, this afternoon, we come together to receive hope anew, and begin to move forward with the life God has given us. Moving forward is a process, much like life in the rest of the natural world: the moon waxes and wanes, the tide ebbs and flows—we inch forward, then we recede into grief before we can inch forward again.

We would like our life, our emotions, and our growth, to take off and go straight up, like an FA-18, but in truth, moving forward is more like the take-off of a butterfly. A butterfly begins by stretching and fluttering its wings; then later, it flies a little and lands again; then flies a little more and rests again. When it is ready for a longer flight, it never flies in a straight line—it goes up and down, and around and down and up again. Perhaps that’s why the butterfly is the international symbol of grief. It takes time to travel this unpredictable path, yet we still embody beauty, and love, and possibility.

Those are the very qualities that make it hard to say goodbye to John—qualities he had even on his last day. Mary and you, Jane, talked about how hard it would be for his mom to see him in this much pain again. You would normally leave the hospital at 10 or 10:30 pm, but that night, you both were getting set up with pillows and blankets to stay the night with him since the time was near.

But John courteously took his last breath at 10:30 that night, so his mom would no longer suffer from his suffering, and Mary and Jane, you would not have to spend the night in the hospital. It’s a humbling and awe-inspiring realization—to behold what can only be seen after death—that he was loving you, and taking care of all of you through his last breath. Even in pain, he didn’t complain, or engage in self-pity, but always reached out in compassion and love.

Sound familiar? John’s behavior reminds us of someone we talk about often—whose care and compassion and love is evident to his dying breath—Jesus. Similar to the pattern of Jesus’s death and resurrection, we see in John, a sacrifice that is life-giving and expands love.

And isn’t that the very pattern of Creation and the whole cosmos—that all of the stuff of creation is constantly moving through this pattern of dying, recycling, transforming, and creating anew to expand life and love?

We live in an age when science and spirituality are coming together; for the whole pattern of creation is that we end where we began; we are star-dust and to star-dust we shall return. God could have remained an infinite, unfathomable ball of energy and light 13.7 billion years ago, but instead, God’s whole being was broken open and undone to create the universe. God exploded out into trillions of galaxies with billions of stars—a self-sacrificing birth in a continuous and evolutionary process of dying and rising, of recreating life and love anew, of recycling the stuff of creation over and over and over again.

So, we are all connected, no matter where we are in the circle of life or the cycle of grief or the spectrum of belief. I think that’s why, the day after he died, when you couldn’t sleep-in, Mary, some odd things happened:

1. One fire alarm chirped, even though, through John’s technological genius, all of them were connected. If one chirped, they all should have chirped, but it was only one;
2. An FA-18 flew overhead, when you’re corner of St. Louis has never been in the flight-path of any FA-18s. And then,
3. When you looked outside, you didn’t see one butterfly, but 20 butterflies, all carrying beauty, love and possibility in their erratic little flight patterns.

Even after death, John is taking care of you as part of the sacred cycle of creation and recreation that keeps us all connected regardless of what language or faith we use to describe it. John’s spirit is here, and in the great mystery of God, we will all be re-united with him and all of our loved ones, and all of creation.

The Song of Solomon says it this way:
My beloved has gone down to his garden,
to the beds of spices,
to pasture his flock in the gardens,
and to gather lilies….
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; (6:2-3)

Mary, your beloved has gone down to his garden, and there he will wait for you. For you are John’s beloved and John is your beloved, and death cannot break your bond, nor your connection beyond the grave. John made sure you received this message, not once, not twice, but three times: a chirping smoke detector, an FA-18, and 20 butterflies hanging out in your backyard.

That’s hope. That’s the hope we all need to take the next step, to live one more day, to flutter our wings and take flight, to embrace the beauty, the wonder, the science, the spirit, and the love of this wonderful world, embracing it all with the gusto of Captain Kirk.


Write comment (0 Comments)

Hypocrisy? Re-imagining Church Conflict & Community

blogpic.ConflictCommunityA sermon preached on Matthew 18:15-20 & Ezekiel 33:7-11 at Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Florissant, MO for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost on September 10, 2017

It took me a long time to stop being surprised by sin. I didn’t want to see it in those I loved, in myself and certainly not in my church. I was well into adulthood before the sin and brokenness in Christians stopped surprising me. I have served three congregations as a solo pastor and two of them suffered from significant conflict.

It’s why many people say that they don’t come to church—you’ve probably heard it as often I have in casual conversation in daily life: "the Church is full hypocrites." The Barna Group has done research that bears this out. The #1 reason people don’t go to church is that “it seems irrelevant today, and there are too many moral failings of its leaders—they’re hypocrites.”

When I hear this, part of me wants to say, “welcome to the club!” Of course, we all our hypocrites including those who cite this as their reason for not joining us. There’s not a human being on the planet—not me, not you, not our Bishop, the Pope nor Mother Theresa, who behaves perfectly according to their faith and principals every moment of every day. The Apostle Paul wasn’t kidding when he said, “all sin and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

But when my husband and I worked in new church development, I was saddened by how many people we talked with who had been hurt by someone in the church—stories from all different denominations, pastors and lay people, members and employees. And it wasn’t just that people had been hurt by the church, but that there was no accountability, no process, no repentance, no effort at healing.

Perhaps if congregations of every stripe read Matthew 18 with more rigor, there would not be so many people who stayed away from churches because of a perceived hypocrisy combined with a lack of effort at repentance and healing.

In our text today, Jesus certainly is NOT surprised by sin, brokenness, and pain in the community of his followers. In fact, Jesus EXPECTS conflict to happen in any and every gathering of 2 or 3 people, even among his followers. Rather than criticizing us for having conflict, Jesus gives us two things that distinguish the Christian community in dealing with disagreements and pain.

The first thing Jesus gives us is a process by which to deal with conflict or hurt when it inevitably happens. Some congregations have even put this passage, Matthew 18, in their Constitution:

The first step is that you speak directly with the person who has hurt you or who’s behavior is harming the community (I would qualify that by saying, "only as long you feel safe doing so"). This also means that it’s not appropriate to go tell everyone else what so-and-so did when you haven’t spoken to that person yourself. If that doesn’t resolve it, then you bring 2-3 people into the conversation. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then and only then do you go to step three in which you bring the issue into the public before the whole community.

Matthew reads as if you do bring your issue before the whole community, that they will see things your way. But of course, the whole point of the passage is that we might also be found in the wrong and in need of repentance. As followers of Jesus, all of us then, must be willing and open to have our sisters and brothers in Christ admonish or challenge our behavior, as much as we are called to do this for others.

When I arrived at one of the congregations I served, there was a very active couple who were relatively new members. I had a great rapport with the husband, but I could tell his wife did not like me or my style, or my "out there” personality (I admit that when I was younger I was much more “out there” than I am now!). After several months, they each wrote a single-spaced one-page letter to the President of the congregation, which he brought before the Council. It detailed all my faults and shortcomings and excoriated just about everything I did in a cruel fashion.

Were there things that I needed to learn from what they said? Absolutely, but it was hard to hear them because their method was so deeply painful. Of course, I wanted them out of the congregation, and I was surprised to see a couple Council members who were upset over their possible departure. Did they not just read the same letter I did?

Jesus concludes his conflict resolution process by saying that if the offending person does not listen to the whole community then, we can treat them as “a Gentile and as a tax collector.” Matthew’s community might have breathed a sigh of relief, like I did, after receiving those letters—at least after doing this three-step process Jesus lays out, we can kick the buggers out!

Well, not so fast. We have to ask the question, “how did Jesus treat Gentiles and Tax collectors?” Well, he hung out with them, he healed them, he called them to repentance, he forgave them, and he kept reaching out to them to bring them into the fold of God’s love!

But the sinful behaviors needed to be changed, and I think this is the hardest part for us in the church. We jump so quickly to Christianity as some milk toast pablum of “being nice” which sometimes allows harmful and hurtful behaviors to go on unchecked. When Jesus engaged with sinners, he wanted the harmful behavior to stop: Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin more (John 8:1-11); Zacchaeus, the tax collector paid back those whom he had defrauded 4-fold, and he needed to stop cheating (Luke 19:1-10). Even today’s passage in Ezekiel affirms this need for repentance, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” But once confronted and amended, the person then must be forgiven and welcomed and restored to community.

A couple of weeks after those awful letters arrived, there was a crisis in the family of the couple who wrote them. Their adult daughter had attempted suicide and she was in the ICU. They had not transferred their membership even though they had stopped coming to church. I was still their pastor. To be honest, I wanted to run screaming in the opposite direction; I knew that I did not have the emotional nor spiritual strength to go to the hospital. I went into the sanctuary and kneeled at the railing. I stayed there and prayed a long time—I told Jesus I didn’t want to go--but Jesus kept me on my knees until I could go to the ICU and make my visit about them and their daughter, and not how deeply they had hurt me.

When I walked into the ICU, they were as surprised to see me as I was to be there. After a prayer, the mom and I went out to the waiting room and she said to me, “I’m so sorry I wrote that letter, I don’t know why I did it or what got into me.” If Jesus hadn’t make me go, I probably never would have received her apology and the healing that resulted.

How many times do we forgive and welcome them? Is three tries enough? In verse 21 of Matthew 18, four verses after our passage today, Peter asks this question of Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as 7 times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but 77 times." Seven is the number of completeness on the Bible, so in other words, your willingness to forgive needs to be limitless—just as God’s love and forgiveness of YOU is limitless.

And that is the second thing that Jesus gives us when conflict happens—first he gives us a process, then he gives us a promise—the promise of his presence: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” When the woman who wrote the hurtful letter apologized, it was Jesus’ presence with us who helped me say, “I forgive you.”

Jesus promises us as his followers that he is with us—in the process, in the conflict, in hurt, in pain, in forgiveness, in restoration and in community. When we’re running the business of the church, it’s easy to forget that Jesus is right there in that room, around that table with us. Maybe we should make sure there’s an empty chair at every church meeting as a visual and concrete reminder that Jesus is sitting right there and calling us to love our neighbor as he loves us.

That couple never did come back to church, but I would call them periodically and see how they and their daughter were. During one phone call, they told me that she was doing great and was engaged to be married.

I have a colleague who, when she does her new member class at church—she tells them up front:

We are doing our best to be a loving community for each other. But we’re human and we make mistakes. There will be some point when we hurt or disappoint you—not because we want to, and not because we don’t love you and love Jesus, but because we are human and we’re all sinful. And when that happens, I hope that rather than leaving, you will stick around and talk with me or our church leaders about it. Because being aware of our sins, and asking for and receiving forgiveness is when the really great stuff happens—a deeper sense of belonging, a profound connection to each other, and the power and presence of Jesus Christ is seen and felt and experienced.

A seminary professor at Luther told another story of one such community. One of his students came from the Mennonite tradition. In his congregation, when someone’s behavior needed to be admonished or corrected, they would not have a one-on-one “confrontation”, but rather, they had a “care-frontation”. The offended person would bring sandwiches and have a “care-frontation” with the person that hurt them—so that the wrong-doer would know that they came in love, with a desire to keep them as a loved and growing soul in their church.

This is the kind of community to which Jesus Christ calls us. Not perfect and surprised by sin, but human and broken and accountable and forgiving and reconciling—a place where Jesus’ presence is seen and felt and experienced in one another. That’s what people today want in a church—a community of integrity and grace and care, where harmful behavior is not excoriated and beaten with the stick of judgment, nor allowed to flourish unchecked, but rather, one characterized by Matthew 18 and its instructions for “care-frontation”.

When we show up in the world with these values and behaviors, people out there will know what kind of community we are in here. Our story doesn’t end at hypocrisy—that’s where the really good stuff begins! For amid our human failings, we are a church where the process, the promise, the presence and the power of Jesus Christ is alive and active in every one of us and where two or three are gathered in his name. Amen

Photo Source:


Write comment (3 Comments)


Follow My Blog!

Enter your email address:

Welcome to my website!

linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.