Update on my Doctor of Ministry

I wanted to give everybody an update on my Doctor of Ministry.  A doctor of ministry is not a Ph.D. It is an applied doctorate. Think of the difference between a Ph.D. in biology and a Medical Doctor. A Ph.D. might know all the bones of the body or how the circulator system works, but if you break your leg you want the medical doctor. They are the ones trained in fixing the leg. A doctor of ministry is not a study in abstract theology or philosophy of ministry. It is an advanced degree in how ministry works.27214779480_cf35fa8ad6_kMy particular program is through George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, OR. (http://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/) The focus is on Semiotics and Future Studies. (http://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/programs/dmin/sfs/index.html)  The term semiotics comes from the Greek word semion meaning sign or symbol. It is the same word the Gospel of John uses for signs that Jesus does. The study of semiotics is a cross between the fields of philosophy and linguistics that looks at how people and cultures express their values and ideas in language, metaphor, and symbolism. It is the study of meaning making—how we communicate and understand symbols. This can range from studying actual signs of advertising or the ways words change over time and are used for different things.

The Christians study of semiotics involves looking at the Bible and Christian tradition through its symbols. It also reads the signs of culture—the ways that the values of the culture come out in media and in language. This leads us to think about the world of the future and what the church needs to do to prepare to do ministry in that world.

My program has a number of components. My cohort of 14 people gathers once a year for an intense learning experience. The orientation happened in Washington, D.C. Last summer we spent a week in Cambridge, England. I just went at the end of May for my last gathering on Orcas Island, WA.

I have had two classes at all times throughout the program so far. One class is an ongoing mentorship with Leonard Sweet. (http://leonardsweet.com/) Len is the author of over 60 books and a frequent speaker around the world. He has taught at Drew Seminary in NJ and United Theological Seminary in Ohio. For Len we have weekly online chats on Monday mornings were we have video, audio, and typing going on simultaneously.  We also read about ½ a book a week and do ongoing conversations via online posts. The goal of these class elements is for Len to mentor us and develop our thinking.

The other class that is ongoing is a series of independent studies that we do researching whatever we want to write our dissertation about. We each have a professor at the seminary that guides us and challenges us through this process. In my own research I have been studying pastors—how they form and follow their identity and how unhealthy identities can lead to stress and burnout. I am proposing that the idea of story could be a helpful paradigm and identity for pastors today. I don’t just mean telling stories. I mean thinking in stories. I have done some preaching and teaching out of this study. (In fact, I confess that much of what I have learned in this program has been tested on you.)

The end of June marks the end of the classwork phase of the program. I am now shifting to working very hard on my dissertation. To graduate in the spring, my dissertation needs to be done in the beginning of January. This sounds very fast, and it is. Only about ½ of student make that first graduation. Still, the research is largely done and large pieces of the dissertation has already been written in the independent studies.

The program also gives me the opportunity to do a non-traditional dissertation. In my case, half of my writing (20,000-25,000 words) will be academic writing explaining my research. In particular, it will describe the problem of pastoral identity and the proposed solution of story. The other half (another 20,000-25,000 words) will be a book proposal and several chapters of a writing sample. I am calling “The Story Pastor.” If all goes well, by January I should be turning in the dissertation and have a book proposal and book started that I can send to publishers.

I want to thank you for your support on this journey. So many people have asked about my program, wondered how it was going, and supported me through it all. You may see me at Starbucks and Panera a lot more as the year moves on. I am planning to take one of my days off each week to camp out and write all day. Please continue to pray for me as I finish this marathon.

And thanks for letting me experiment with this stuff on you. I believe I have grown a lot from this program and I hope you can feel the benefit from that as well.

Mountains and Valleys


There is a very interesting theme of mountains and valleys in the Bible. All kids of high points happen on mountains. Moses gets the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Mount Zion is the site of the Jewish Temple. We have the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration on a mountain. The Psalms refer often to mountains. For instance, Psalm 98:8 says, ”let the hills sing for joy together.”

All kids of low points happen in valleys. The Valley of Jezreel is where Jehu killed Jehorum and where Hosea 1:5 says that judgment will come upon Israel. The Valley of Siddim is where Sodom and Gomorroah were located. Achan was stoned in the Valley of Achor. The place that Jesus used to speak of hell was called Gehenna and it is a valley outside of Jerusalem that was used as the city dump. The Psalmist tells us that we sometimes “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

This is one of the areas of scripture that is truest to life. We have mountains and valleys. We have high points and low points.

This week I am coming off of a major mountain top. I spent last week on Orcas Island in upper Washington state. It was the last gathering for my doctor of ministry program. It was a beautiful place spent laughing and learning with great friends. It was also the first time since our honeymoon that my wife and I had more than one night away from our kids. My wife even got to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing Orcas in the wild.

And now it is over. I am back to life. And it feels like a valley. I am tired. I am a bit down. I don’t have enough energy and motivation to get ahead on things. I have been doing the things I need to do, but I am also taking time to recover.

Here is the thing I am clinging to- the feelings of mountains and valleys are not representative of how close God is. God is the Lord of the valleys and the mountains. Psalm 95:4 tells us-

         In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

God is with us in both. In fact, they are often related. Anytime you come off the mountaintop it feels like a valley. Anytime you climb out of a valley it feels like a mountaintop.

So cling to mountain experiences—sometimes they don’t come back around for a while and they are your chance to get a larger perspective. And be patient in the valley because those are the times that can shape your character most. And realize that wherever you are Jesus is Lord there too.

Communion Thoughts #6- Tips for Making Communion More Meaningful

I have been writing a series of blogs about Communion. I talked about WHAT IS COMMUNION and WHAT HAPPENS DURING COMMUNION. I also blogged about HOW IT IS SERVED. I did a blog about WHY I AM NOT DOING COMMUNION BY INTINCTION ANYMORE. In my last blog I gave SEVEN GREAT IMAGES FOR COMMUNION. In my next blog I will give seven specific ways I have tried to enliven communion. Here I just want to list some general tips for making communion more meaningful.

Use different names- If you call it communion, then explain the other terms and use them. Serve Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper next time. This will help take people off of automatic pilot and get them thinking.

Use different images- Communion is not just one image or metaphor. It is loaded with different aspects, images, and thoughts. Don’t get in the habit of saying the same think every time you do it.St_Michael_the_Archangel,_Findlay,_OH_-_bread_and_wine

Decorate the table- The table itself provides lots of opportunities for imagery and creativity. The experience automatically changes if the table is covered in flowers. One time I preached about Daniel in the lion’s den. When people came forward, the table was covered in plastic lions. I read about a sermon that talked about Christ being our safety and security. The image they used was of a kid’s blanket. The table was decorated in children’s blankets. I even think the table can change. What happens if the table is actually a door set up like a table?

Flow from the sermon right into communion- In most of our services the sermon is set up to be the highlight and communion is a response. But what if we reorient the service so that the sacrament is the highlight and the sermon is part of the sacrament. I have even preached from the communion table.

Build an action into coming to the table- Have people pick something up or lay something down on the way to communion. Have them write sins on rice paper and dissolve the paper in water on the way to the table.

World Communion Sunday This is becoming one of my favorite Sundays of the year. I have ANOTHER BLOG with ideas on making this day special. We normally serve lots of different colors, textures, and shapes of breads to represent world Christianity.

Do bread together and juice separately- I really like this imagery. I ask people to hold the bread so that we take it together as one body and remember that God saves us corporately. I then ask people to take the juice individually when they get it. Here they are asked to reflect on Christ’s saving work for them personally.

Serve on mirrors- I love the imagery of the sacrament being a reflection of Christ and that we are in some way “lifted up” into His presence. Mirrors help show that.

Have people stand around the table- We have done this a few times in my church and people always find it very special. We have everybody come up and crowd around the table. We then take the elements and pass them around as a family would. I realize not every church can do this, but this is one that small churches need to try. I also recommend have some chairs or the first pew available for those with mobility issues.

What other things do you do to liven up communion?