Monday, September 21, 2015

Hello, my name is Tim, and I'm an Introvert

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World
 That Can't Stop Talking
, by Susan Cain
I was asked to preach at our church a few months ago. I debated between spending the entire time talking about prison ministry and using the sermon time as a recruiting opportunity vs. sharing about the blessings of being messily involved with the messy lives of messy people.

So I did both.

My philosophy of teaching and preaching is simple: the vast majority of people in any audience will have forgotten most of what a speaker said within a few short days, if not hours. What they will remember is  perhaps one or two stories or a quote or a single idea that resonated with them. Each listener will respond to something different, based on what resonated with him or her at that moment.

The teacher or preacher has no way of knowing, predicting, or controlling which things will be remembered. It may even be something that wasn't in the speaking notes at all but instead some off the cuff comment. All the best communication tricks, carefully emphasized signposts, or alliterative outline points will not likely have much effect on what each individual listener takes away from what you've said.

I have a pretty good idea what will be the most remembered thing I said in my sermon, based on the comments I received afterward.

I told attention-grabbing stories about the lives of prisoners. I offered practical and detailed encouragement about how everyday outside-the-prison ministry can in fact plant seeds that diverts someone from a path toward prison. I quoted scripture. I talked for about 40 minutes.

And the number one comment heard by both my wife and I during the post-sermon mingle was about my admission that I'm an introvert.

I talked about what qualifies someone for prison ministry, or any ministry where you're messily involved with the messy lives of messy people. As part of that thought process, I shared that in many ways I'm the last person anyone would think would be qualified to teach and counsel a room full of prisoners every week, because I'm an introvert.

I told everyone in my home church how, if they had been paying attention, they would have noticed that during the mingle times they'd most likely see me standing on the edge of a group of people, pretending to be part of the conversation. Or, just as often, I'm standing off by myself, watching the rest of the people chit chat.

But when I walk into the prison chapel, God somehow transforms me into a person who can lead a free-wheeling conversation with a roomful of convicted criminals.

And, of course, what most people will remember from my sermon is the morning Tim Robertson came out of the closet as an introvert.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The View From the Bus: God on the Bus

Atheist Bus Campain, Great Britain, 2008
I'm pretty SURE God rides the bus, even if the bus doesn't believe in God.

I can't be certain I've ever seen God on the bus. He doesn't always make himself obvious. But I suspect I've seen him there.

Jesus says, in Matthew 25:61-46, that anytime we feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, or visit prisoners, we've done the same for Him.

I've never seen a naked person on the bus, bus I certainly see people who are hungry, thirsty, just out of prison, poor, and generally needy.

I've also met people on the bus who know God.

If you were to have ridden the 109 bus in Buenos Aires a few years back, you might have found yourself seated across from a friendly Catholic priest in a plain dark suit. A conversation with him might be remembered on a future date when you saw his face on the news, now wearing the clothing of the pope.

I recall a stooped older man who seemed to always be riding the bus a few years ago, his straw boater sometimes on his head, other times on the seat beside him. Always, though, he held a large opened Bible in his hands. More than once he engaged my boys in conversation about what he was reading. At first they were wary of a man who seemed unspeakably old. Soon, through, they got to know him and would greet him when they boarded the bus and found him in his usual spot. Both he and the boys were pleased whenever they discovered they both knew details of a Bible story he brought up.

What if God was one of us
just a stranger on the bus
Just a slob like one of us
trying to make his way home.
(from "One of Us", written by Eric Bazilian, recorded by Joan Osborne, 1995)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Five Signs You're a Chaplain and Not a Pastor

Thom S. Rainer's Labor Day blog post is entitled Ten Signs a Pastor is Becoming a Chaplain. I generally find Rainer's blog to be a mixed bag. I'm not fond of blogs about "leadership", so I tend to pass over those posts. I have seen church plants thrive under Rainer's "Simple Church" approach, though, so sometimes his blog posts provide useful information.

Today's blog caught my interest because, as a volunteer prison chaplain, I thought it would be interesting to see what he had to say about the different approach a chaplain learns to take, as opposed to being a congregational pastor.

I even hoped it might be a little funny.

Instead, I read a post about pastors who spend so much time meeting the felt needs of people in the congregation that they have no time for other tasks. To make this point, Rainer compares his ideal of a pastor with his wholly warped understanding of what a chaplain actually does.

A couple of other chaplains replied to Rainer's post with complaints about his misunderstanding.  He responds, saying his chaplaincy metaphor is “far from perfect,” I don't think that goes far enough.

I suspect several chaplains clicked on this blog post hoping to see a constructive list of ways what we do is different from a congregation-based pastor. Instead, we read a list that discourages people from being chaplains, since what we do just doesn’t quite measure up to a pastor’s job.

As a volunteer prison chaplain, I recognize very little of the picture Rainer painted of a chaplain’s approach to ministry. Perhaps we need a more realistic list of ways to tell a pastor has become an actual chaplain.

  1. The chaplain is constantly connecting with non-believers and seekers, many of whom have never considered setting foot inside the doors of a church.

  2. The chaplain is actively equipping believers among the prisoners, military personnel, or hospital/nursing home workers who have more access and can do more to help people in need than the chaplain will ever be able to reach. 

  3. The chaplain is always learning, always pursuing new initiatives and new ways to address the specific spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of people in situations and environments that have removed them from the sort of "normal" daily life of the average church member.

  4. The chaplain is always planning for the future, but it’s often the future of the people he or she is ministering to, rather than the future of a program or an organization.

  5. The chaplain, on a regular basis, experiences the lowest of lows but also experiences the greatest of joys in following the mission God has assigned to her or him. The chaplain constantly deals with people who are bitter, angry with God, and in constant life threatening situations. "Failure" in the chaplaincy often has immediate and soul-wrenching consequences. "Success" in chaplaincy can be an exhilarating victory in a very real spiritual battle.
I could go on, but won’t.

Mr. Rainer, I understand your point about church-bound pastors needing to do more than hold the hands of the flock. But you’ve chosen a way to make your point that wholly misrepresents chaplaincy.

I'd encourage you and every pastor who reads your blog, to wade into the waters of chaplaincy and experience its joys and heartaches.