As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

When Jesus bid his soon-to-be disciples, “Follow Me,” they dropped their nets and came alongside the itinerant preacher from Galilee. That was some invitation! Suddenly, nothing was more important to these fishermen than staying in close proximity to Jesus of Nazareth. They had demonstrated skills at fishing, though this would be sorely tested and Jesus would be proven superior at the sport (Luke 5:4-11). Nevertheless, when Jesus beckoned, their fishing ability became an item on their resumés, and a new work path unfolded before them. They would be called upon to transfer their fishing prowess to “fishing for people.”

I feel like that is happening to me. My experiences as musician, full-time pastor, Presbyterian activist, and academician have shaped me, but in order to follow Jesus I must put down those nets and “fish for people” another way. Redirecting the gifts and skills God has given, I believe that it is time for me to embrace the discipline and ministry of writing as my primary focus. Perhaps I have mentioned before that I have maybe four books in my brain waiting to come out, and at this stage in life it seems right to make that endeavor a priority.

Writing requires quiet time alone, and I have proven in the last few years that I can function productively while working by myself (and know how to get people-contact when I need it). From a personality standpoint, as well as the cancer experience this year that radically quieted my life, thoughtful reflection has become a necessary part of my routine. The affirmation of friends and responses to my blogs have suggested that a potential readership exists beyond my classroom or pulpit reach; in other words, writing books can expand my ministry of teaching to a wider audience. Such a lifestyle switch is also an acknowledgment that any sort of administration-laden “church job” would feel confining and diverting from my call.

Having made the case for writing, I also realize how important it is for me to interact with people at a deep level. The daily visits of friends, my “helping hands” during my cancer treatment, not only met this need but also became the context for examining ideas, making disciples, and “exegeting people” with whom I wish to communicate. Not only does this regular fellowship test my thoughts, but it also exercises me spiritually. For this reason, I want to maintain some kind of pastoral practice in the faith community. A part-time contract at a local church is in the works, as I feel ready to emerge from my medical leave and resume my public service.

Saying “yes” to these two core activities—writing and part-time pastoral service—means saying “no” to other activities. After cheering on the Presbyterian Renewal Network’s advisory team going to Detroit for the PC(USA) General Assembly in June, I will retire from denominational activism. Ramping into that decision, I will not be going to Detroit personally, in order to maintain my pulmonary rehab and to avoid absorbing the spiritual toxicity so prevalent in these meetings. [Hasn’t my body taken in enough toxicity—chemo and radiation—this year?]

The life change I undergo does not in any way render my past experiences or my present skills as irrelevant, wasted, or misguided. In fact, I truly believe that nothing is wasted in God’s economy! It will be interesting to see how my history feeds my present calling and ministry effectiveness. However it all comes out, my desire is that you would be edified and my Lord would be glorified. Hold me to that, will you, dear reader?

Now begins the process of synthesizing the various discoveries of my SHAPE. To review:

S—Spiritual Gifts. Teaching is dominant among my gifts, with Leadership and Prophecy right behind. You could probably account for the results of and response to my singing and writing abilities as a God-thing, too; so add Creative Communication to the list.

H—Heart. I am particularly drawn to people who have questions, who are making big decisions, who are trying to align their lives with God as revealed in the Scriptures.

A—Abilities. I can express myself clearly through speaking, singing, and writing; I am an accomplished cook. I am able to acquire new knowledge and skills as needed for particular projects (for instance, dealing with my lung cancer this year); I am able to sort matters out and come to practical plans of action; I can read groups very well and enable processes that will foster better communication.

P—Personality. According to Myers-Briggs, XNTJ; the DISC assessment, High Influence and (less so) High Dominance. People tell me they appreciate my positive attitude; I am a morning person; and I think simply being a Californian has shaped my outlook significantly. And to quote both my mother and my college application—it’s still true—I am “determined.” I can work alone for long periods of time, but I also enjoy the collaborative effort of team projects.

E—Experience. I have raised two children and been married to the same man for 39 years. I have spent most of my professional life ministering to adults in upper-middle-class or wealthy suburbs, primarily in large churches (though I have also experienced “downward mobility” on that score). As teacher, I have opened up the entire Bible in Genesis-to-Revelation studies a few times, plus taught in-depth Bible studies on many OT and NT books; I have also taught prospective pastors at the graduate level at Fuller Seminary. International travel and mission trips have given me a world perspective. Extensive experience in denominational participation (PCUSA) and leadership, including legal brief writing, has stretched me in an entirely different direction. And most recently, I have been treated for and successfully cured of lung cancer.

So now what do we do with all this data? A few questions and/or observations:

  1. Does a track record dictate future ministry directions? Not necessarily. Though experience is valuable, it is not required, particularly if God wants to move a person into a new place. I have the distinct feeling that my cancer experience has afforded me the opportunity to do something new (and not necessarily related to cancer). Experience can help identify gifts and abilities that are transferable to new contexts.

  2. Beyond SHAPE, other very practical, physical conditions factor into a decision about where and how to serve. For instance, as a person now with a lung condition, I would be unwise to serve in an area where the air quality is particularly bad (parts of China and the Central Valley of California come to mind). Age and energy level may direct a person towards one ministry setting over another. Many a pastor has also taken into account boredom, restlessness, or achievement as signs it is time to move on to something new.

  3. Choosing a ministry venue is as much an assessment of delight as it is duty. Even if the mission outpost is difficult, a calling to it can be affirmed by observing whether one thrives. In other words, it is not only okay but also preferable to love what you do, because your best work will result. [I know Reformed people of Calvin’s tradition are a bit suspect of having fun while dispatching one’s duty; but I can give testimony that even at the most difficult moments of ministry, I could find pleasure at being fully utilized in service to the Lord.]

  4. I fully subscribe to the Presbyterian/Reformed view that calling is confirmed by the affirmation of God’s people in the form of an invitation to serve. It gets a little tricky, however, as the PCUSA (for instance) has a surplus of trained pastoral candidates compared to the number of positions available. Robert Schuller’s watchword, “Find a need and fill it!” is helpful here, but one would hope that in the end the community of faith would support and affirm a person’s ministry direction. Too much trouble ensues if the Lone Ranger tries to operate without being accountable to the Christian body somehow.

  5. As one evaluates the various options for ministry, as I am doing, the question has to be asked of each one: Is this an opportunity or a temptation? Does this new opening indulge my need to have public recognition or enflame any emotional/psychological weakness I carry (––> temptation)? Does this invitation, in God’s economy, offer the chance to make a difference for the Kingdom and nurture my soul as well (––> opportunity)?

  6. Some people follow the open-door, closed-door rule for decision-making regarding vocation. If I had walked away from every closed door I have encountered, I would be sitting in a box somewhere. Not all closed doors are the result of God’s hand! By the same token, not every open door indicates God’s will either. If that were so, I would have crashed and burned multiple times by now. Landing on God’s will for my ministry life is going to involve saying “yes” to a few select opportunities and saying “no” to those deemed tempting but not right for me.

Next Post: How all this applies to my specific circumstances.

It’s an interesting thing about experience and ministry. Experience is not required to do something or to be someone useful to the Kingdom of God. There are many entry-level positions in God’s economy. But if one has had experience in ministry settings, one has some clues as to one’s gifts and calling. I remember my very first mission trip, a month-long excursion to Guatemala after its 1976 catastrophic earthquake. Based on that experience—riding a school bus from the Bay Area the entire length of Mexico into Guatemala, mixing cement and setting reinforced concrete brick, cleaning bathrooms, and speaking with the locals through an interpreter—I came to the conclusion that God was not calling me to be a foreign missionary! I had reason later in life to reevaluate that assessment, and I did participate in another mission endeavor (four months in Zimbabwe in 1994). Though that amazing venture went much better, I still believe that my primary mission field is here in 95% unchurched San Francisco Bay Area. But the experiences have been valuable for understanding myself and appreciating where I thrive.

I have been an ordained Presbyterian pastor since 1987, but for twelve years before that I was a lay specialist in music, small groups, and discipleship ministries at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (what we’d now call a mega-church). After my ordination, I served another large Presbyterian church in the East Bay, as Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries. During this time I honed God’s gifts of teaching, preaching, leadership, and administration. Also during this period, I got involved in Presbytery and was elected for the first time as a commissioner to General Assembly in 1992. Ever since then, I have been involved in organizing the work of more theologically conservative Presbyterians through national renewal organizations Presbyterians For Renewal and the Presbyterian Coalition. In 1997, I moved thirteen miles away to become the senior pastor of a medium-sized church in downtown Concord, California. Then preaching almost every week, teaching a regular Sunday school class, moderating Session, leading a staff through its various transitions, and helping people resolve conflicts, I developed another set of skills and gifts by necessity. When my time there was completed, I shifted course into academia, bearing down on full-time pursuit of a Doctor of Ministry degree, writing a dissertation, and teaching courses for Fuller’s regional campuses on “Teaching for Christian Formation,” “Teaching the Bible,” “The Missional Church and Its Leadership,” and “Preaching Practicum.” Finding another pastoral call has been an elusive goal, but since finishing my D.Min. in 2011 I have served part-time at a large Lutheran church (ELCA, with whom Presbyterians are in “full communion”) as a parish associate.

Those are the activities that appear on my resumé. Add the experiences of professional vocal performance (of the classical genre, primarily), musical theater, and record albums.

And then, there has been this six-month adventure slaying the Beast of lung cancer and the blogging that accompanied it.

I have had a lot of ministry experience, primarily working with adults. There aren’t too many ministry situations that would be out of my league at this point, but the question remains: which of these experiences might carry forward or suggest something new in the next season of my life? In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. The value of any particular involvement is assessed and used by the One who is orchestrating Kingdom work. On the other hand, God is also able to start a new thing in and through me, regardless of previous practice or lack thereof. We have plenty of biblical data points to support that assertion:

Abraham, called out of Ur “to a place I will show you,” to become “father of a great nation.” We know nothing of Abraham’s background or qualifications other than God’s sovereign choice (Genesis 12).

Judges like Deborah appear out of nowhere to answer God’s call to give leadership in Israel before the nation had a king (Judges 4-5).

Prophets about whom we know precious little are hustled out of obscurity to become prominent voices of godly reason. Hosea is assigned particularly hazardous duty (The Book of Hosea).

The lowly maiden Mary was chosen precisely because of her inexperience and her humble situation (Luke 1-2).

So, while ministry experience is helpful to observe how God uses a person, it is not necessary to prove one’s worth or abilities, if in fact God is calling a person to do a particular task. In my case, though I have had lots of ministry experience, what I really have gained in the last few decades is confidence that God can make me able for whatever is needed in a particular time or season. One can also come to the conclusion, like the Apostle Paul, that the achievements and certificates of accomplishment one might gather are worth nothing ultimately, but only that one knows and loves the Savior, Jesus Christ, and is available to do his bidding (Philippians 3:8). So that kind of leaves the door open to new things, doesn’t it?

In my next post, I will gather all the observations about my SHAPE and come to some conclusions about how I will serve the Lord in this new season.

When our second daughter was born, I was blown away by how different she was from her older sister, on the first day! I guess I had held the view that “a baby is a baby,” until Darling Daughter A exhibited her own response to the world in contrast to Darling Daughter 1. It’s a good thing I could see the difference between them, because I was enabled to receive each girl on her own terms and enjoy her uniqueness. Such an appreciation releases a mom from the temptation to treat her children exactly alike, which I think was a goal my own mother had. (It didn’t help that my sister was born on my second birthday, which doomed us both to joint birthday parties and exactly the same gifts year after year!)

It has been fun to watch the girls’ personalities evolve over the years. They have many characteristics in common, probably attributed to their gene pool and common household upbringing. But their temperaments are different from each other and even their parents, all of which demonstrates the lesson for today. Two people with similar gifts but different personalities approach life and ministry from their unique vantage points. And people can change.

A person in church leadership, as an example, has many opportunities in life to undergo assessment of ministry potential, gifts, and work style. The first, for me, was when a Bible study of which I was a part decided to explore the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter. The polarities explored are these: Extrovert-Introvert; Sensate-iNtuitive; Thinker-Feeler; and Judgment-Perceiving. What emerged from this experience was the awareness that people are wired differently, along the lines the Apostle Paul spoke of in his letters about the Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12, for example, Paul makes the case that every Christian is uniquely gifted, and the Body’s responsibility is to affirm that giftedness in the way it coordinates the saints for ministry. Others do not have to be just like me in order to be effective, make a contribution, or give glory to God. The fact that they aren’t is a good thing!

For many heading into ministry, the next opportunity for assessment is when one is taken under care of the presbytery in preparation for ordination. In San Francisco Presbytery, long ago (and still to this day), candidates were required to undergo a psychological assessment to check for psychosis, unhealthy motivations, or mental issues that could affect one’s handling of the pastorate. Yes, I passed, for those of you who think I am crazy. But I remember the comments from the psychologist, who pointed not only to present gifts but also to future potential and growth points. Those put me on alert for further work in the future.

As time passes and one encounters the real self in real ministry situations, other opportunities to grow and learn present themselves. It may be in the form of “executive coaching,” a Doctor of Ministry course in church leadership, or perhaps, after a crash-and-burn experience, a full course of psychotherapy. In those situations, one might take the DISC Personality Test, which measures four behaviors: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. A lot of pastors are “high-dominance” and/or “high-influence,” and I am no different, as these are the people who communicate broadly, lead groups, accept risk, and set vision.

With these tools in mind, I can report that I started out in adulthood as a Myers-Briggs ENTJ, otherwise known as the “field marshal.”  Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging. That is, energized by social interaction, naturally organized to create structure in groups, able to articulate vision, think and present rationally, and make decisions that stick. This accounts for my rise to leadership in the pastorate (getting bonked on the head by the stained-glass ceiling eventually) and in renewal organizations in the PC(USA). It’s why I am at my best in front of a white-board with colored pens in my hand working with a group. It’s why I have a continuing desire to learn and grow and become competent in new areas.

As I have gotten older and maybe wiser, my Myers-Briggs profile has changed to XNTJ, with scores in the T-F continuum closer to the middle, that is, more expressive at an emotional level than before. The X means an even score between extrovert and introvert behaviors, reflecting the quiet lifestyle I have enjoyed the past seven years, working at home alone. What has changed is my ability to work with individuals and small groups, and to be more sensitive and empathetic, even as I apply knowledge and rationality to the problems and issues that come before me. As to the benefits of introversion, I heartily recommend the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Broadway Books, 2013). I am learning to nurture the quiet side, allow time for reflection, prepare for social occasions and give time to “recovery” afterward.

I believe that Jesus was an XXXX on the Myers-Briggs. He demonstrated the perfect balance between alone-time and crowd-time, between vision-setting and practical problem-solving, between thinking and feeling, and between judgment and flexibility. So the fact that two of my scores have moved toward the middle of the scale gives me hope that God is even working to transform my personality into something he can use in new and (I hope) delightful ways.

We’re getting close now to a full SHAPE profile. My next post will review the ministry experiences that have shaped me, for good or for ill, over decades of ministry life.

As a way of discerning God’s call upon my life after sitting on the bench through a bout of lung cancer, I am continuing an assessment of my SHAPE for ministry. In my last post I listed my S—spiritual gifts. Many assessments stop there, but God provides pointers to his call in other aspects of our lives, too. Two people with the same spiritual gift(s) can express their Christian discipleship in very different ways, because of how they are wired emotionally, in their personality, or through the experiences that have shaped them and developed their abilities. The Saddleback SHAPE model takes this diversity into account by observing not just spiritual gifts but also motivation, talents, temperament, and experience.

So the next step today is to think about H—Heart for ministry and A—Abilities that have developed over the years. What follows is my own assessment, but the hope is my readers are thinking about their own SHAPE as well!

Heart for Ministry. This assessment takes a look at what moves me or calls me to action. To whom do I find myself gravitating when looking for those God wants me to serve? The answer to this question is discovered by observing the dynamics of a ministry setting that is invigorating to me. With whom do I feel most energized and to whom do I feel I have the most to offer? What gets my heart beating faster in the name of the Lord?

I have a heart for people who are

• caught on the horns of a dilemma
• seeking to apply their Christian faith as a way of life
• decision-makers trying to be faithful as they work through tough choices
• mixed up or ignorant about the basic facts related to the Christian faith and worldview
• asking questions

These folks all need empathy, certainly, but they also need information and a way of interacting with that information in order to apply it to their situation. I love working with anyone in any context who comes with that basic curiosity and need to know. They tend to be adults (rather than children), but lately I have also been getting a charge out of high school and college age students I meet at church. They may think I’m a little old to be relevant to them, but if our conversation is around faith, the Bible, or even current movies, it seems we have plenty to talk about. I get very energized when given the privilege to come alongside someone (or a group) that is making a big decision.

Abilities. To be distinguished from spiritual gifts, this category involves those natural and acquired talents and skills that have developed in one’s lifetime. So here are some of mine:

• an above-average intellect and ability to learn new things and think logically
• an expressive and practiced singing voice
• an articulate speaking voice
• home arts: cooking, sewing, and offering hospitality
• ability to organize big tasks and the people to do them
• writing
• high “emotional intelligence”
• facility with group dynamics and social interactions
• breaking down the complex into understandable points

It may seem boastful to list abilities and talents, but the Scriptures describe humility not as disparagement of one’s abilities but as willingness to let God orchestrate their use for his glory. The Apostle Paul admonished the Roman disciples “. . . . not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3). Any trait can be used greatly by God, if submitted to his Lordship without strings attached. The first step in that direction is to know myself, so that I have a full grasp of what I am offering to the Lord as “a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

Next post: P—Personality Type