Category Archives: ministry

I can’t unravel the web of preparing worship and doing ministry


So when do you decide you are spending too much time preparing for worship services and setting up systems, and not enough time ministering to people? Or vice versa?

I am in one of my busiest and most stressful times as a pastor, but it is right now that people are coming forward seeking help from our community. I know it isn’t my job to do it all, but I’m often the first stop. An easy conclusion would be that it is time to worry less about all the details. Maybe that last creative element for Sunday that we are trying to pull off isn’t really all that important, just free up time to “be there,” to minister to people.
But then I stop and realize that the reason the person came to Jacob’s Well, and came back, and finally felt permission to open up the pain inside was because of creative elements that we painstakingly prepared and presented.

It is an intricately woven fabric of telling the story, opening lives and touching them with the presence of God. There is balance, but there is no formula. It is always follow God doing the best you can with what you have. Keep your eyes wide open and remember that both ministry and God inspired creativity have a tendency to happen when you haven’t planned on them.


Political as well as Personal Relevance

The paragraph below is part of reader Jenna’s very articulate comment on my post “Being Christian isn’t a good thing anymore.”

“...what about bigger problems like racism, poverty, and lack of access to education? Many churches focus on these issues at the global level, but problems like these are very present in Minneapolis…”

Boy, I know what she means. I’m going to try to respond and I’ll bet my response won’t be wholly satisfactory to anyone, including myself. So I’d love more people weighing in on this.

1. Yep, we do have to raise our voice as followers of God. The Bible consistently balances (if not trumps) the personal impact of faith with the societal impact of it. I do not think the societal (or political) is anymore important, but that God is highly suspicious of any manifestation of faith that doesn’t start reshaping the world around it.

2. Politics are dangerous in church. Here’s why. Not because we aren’t supposed to be political, but because politics tries to regroup us according to our stands on issues and stake its claim on us as its adherents. That isn’t the job of politics, that’s God’s job. Our only unwavering adherence should be to the gospel and its transforming power in us and through us. When church bodies (local, regional, national) have taken political stands on issues they have usually done it badly. They take votes that make losers and winners, dividing the unity of Christ. Losers either leave, alienated from the dialog that might have furthered understanding and growth; or they retreat until they can mount their forces to overthrow those who won last time.

3. One of the core values of Jacob’s Well is “We value unity and diversity. We focus on the mission that unites, rather than the details that divide.” How do we do that? It isn’t easy, but we already hold a large range of diversity in our community with almost no conflict. If we only do that by avoiding issues it is bankrupt, but I don’t believe that is the case. My vision is that the church is called to convict people with God’s desire for justice and compassion. The church has to be ‘prophetic’ about what the real issues are. The action, however, is a response of faith. It is individual and we are called to be tolerant of and engaged with each other despite our varied approaches. Face it, we never know for sure when we are right. It is the church’s place to say, “Racism is a problem. Here are some of the things the Bible says about it. Here are questions that we as people who carry Jesus’ cross with him are called to figure out and act on.” But it is not the church’s place to say, “This is the only right response to racism.” Or “This is the right stand on the issue of racism.”

4. I will freely admit that this is a growing area for me to learn how to walk the precarious edge of calling a community to action in the political/social sphere, but not endorse policies or candidates. We are trying to learn, however. We did a series (IMUR) some months ago working from Jesus’ “I am” statements in John’s gospel. Two weeks focused on local justice issues with expert guest speakers. One dealing with poverty and race issues in our neighborhood, and another with Muslim/Christian relationships. Two Muslim speakers helped me with deliver that message. This summer we did a series (Is God Green?) dealing with environmental issues and capped it off by having our worship one Sunday be actually working on projects that improved the environment. We gave everyone a dvd afterward with a message from me (and another for kids) to help interpret the experience. (If you want a copy of the dvd, let me know.)

5. We believe everyone should have a ministry within the church and a mission beyond it. That will be a goal for Jacob’s Well forever. That ‘mission beyond’ will be different for every person, but we will try to help everyone see that their voting, their voices to elected and appointed government officials, their volunteering, their influence over friends and neighbors, and their mere presence in the community should be understood as part of their mission.

Sorry for so long a response, but Jenna hit a hot button for me that I wrestle with a lot.

Vision setting

Jacob’s Well in the next 5 years…

…you asked, so here it is.  Let me say that this is at 35,000′ so it has little substance, just BHAGs.  Let me also say that it may sound smug and prideful to you, and it may be, but I want to believe that the only thing keeping God from using Jacob’s Well for great things is our lack of imagination and courage.

There are two sides to the Vision…

First, Jacob’s Well is our attempt to start a new congregation in an established community for the huge population that has given up on church. It is our intent to grow in depth and breadth. Rapidly!  Why not? (What if a church could do that in an urban setting?!?!)

Second, we are trying to develop new models for ministry that can be effective among the population that doesn’t like going to church. Models that are built on principles (biblically, theologically, sociologically sound) not on styles or personality, so that the models can be contextually applied in other locations.  (What if Jesus’ Church could grow with Acts-like speed in the U.S. today?!?!)

In brief:
Jacob’s Well

2006 Secure funding.  Gather launch team.  Rattle the neighborhood and launch a church for people who don’t like church.  Have new people from the community outnumber the launch team quickly.

2007 Launch second service, implement youth ministries, groups, discipleship process, ministry base of congregation, stewardship.

2008 Second venue for Sunday a.m. worship with its own campus pastor, but rotating speaker and band. Service will be the same as at the Field location. Continue to implement groups, strategic ministries. Develop service and mission through strategic alliances.  Achieve financial self-support.

2009 Launch 3rd (& 4th) venue. Same pattern as 2nd location. (What is really keeping us from launching at least 1 new community every year except our own inability to believe what God is up to around us?) Group life is the solid building block of the community. Special worship experience for youth. Major investment in the neighborhood by congregation.

2011 Association of congregations in the urban metro area (and beyond?), each self-supporting, but with shared office, sharing resources and using it to develop relevant, valuable, creative worship experiences that bring people into the presence of God and create participants into community.

Model of Ministry

2006 Apply to Jacob’s Well.

2007 Unlearn, unlearn, unlearn.  Learn, learn, learn.  Develop and experiment.  Learn from failure.

2008 More of the same.   Begin coaching group for church launchers in the upper midwest.

2009 Help launch congregations in other cities.  Offer first conference.

2011 Association has major role in developing other congregations in other cities as well as developing local venues.

As simple as handing out a bottle of water

Jacob’s Well water bottles

This one’s for you!

It is amazing. When you have, in your hand, what someone else wants it is so easy to start off a conversation. When we started Jacob’s Well last summer we decided it made sense to have a bunch (bunch=10K what were we thinking!) of water bottles made up with our name, tagline (‘the kind of church you’re thirsty for’) and web address on them. Wells are where water comes from after all. They have been a great tool for us. (See why we aren’t getting anymore – it’s a core value/environmental decision for us – at

Today is the big Fall Festival at 48th & Chicago here in south Minneapolis, the bustling little business district where our office is located. It is a gorgeous day and many 100’s of people are around. Our band was playing on the stage a number of times, and Nate, our worship leader, was the emcee for all the stage events. We were also doing face painting, had a rest tent for parents with little kids, had people out and about in their “What if…?” t-shirts (our billboard is also on that corner). And most of all, we were handing out water in front of our office and talking to anyone who wanted to.

“Thank you!” “Have you heard of Jacob’s Well?” “…uh, I think so… what are you?” or quite often, “Yes, my friend or neighbor goes there.” One young woman said, “Yes, I was there last week for the first time.” Cool. And the conversations went on. I usually tell people that we know most people have given up on church, but it isn’t God’s fault, we think God still matters. So we started a church for people who don’t like to go to church.” Faces brighten. They know exactly what I mean. I interpret that as permission to say more. Many people said they wanted to come and check us out – I think most of them meant it. They seemed excited.

The water was perfect. They wanted it, we had it. We connected and something important passed from one person to another.

It is amazing, when you have something people actually want – are thirsty for – it is easy, natural to make a meaningful connection.

Jacob’s Well – the kind of church you’re thirsty for

Hmmm… sounds a lot like John chapter 4 to me.

BTW: Tomorrow is the beginning of our 2nd year and we are celebrating by launching a 2nd service. It will be Sunday at 6 p.m. (we already gather at 10:30 a.m.) at Field Middle School, 46th St & 4th Ave S, Mpls. Keep us in your prayers. Better yet: come. If you would like to support our ministry, donations can be sent to our Jacob’s Well office at 4751 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407.

“What if…?” ==>> “Why not…?”

As a pastor I do a lot of writing. Sometimes I learn more by what comes out when my pen starts messing around with thoughts than I ever intended. I like that.

That’s what happened with “What if…?” (our current theme at Jacob’s Well) for me. The typical church and human response to “what if…?” is to control it. “What if” threatens status quo. But God loves possibility and relies on our “what ifs” to help explore them. Rather than dismissing or discouraging them, perhaps God likes to say, “Why not?”

I don’t suppose that God wants to meet just any “what if” with a “why not,” but we might be surprised at how many God might be willing to work with. That’s the point after all. God doesn’t just let them go by, God gets involved, and with God involved there isn’t a lot that isn’t worth trying.

If it were only straight ahead, it wouldn’t be so precarious…

A number of years ago I heard Jim Collins (Good to Great & Built to Last, both get strong recommendations from me) speak at a conference in Colorado. I wrote down this quote that has plagued (and blessed) my life and ministry ever since, “Are you willing to let go of a hard fought expertise, lose the competence you’ve invested years in, in order to master a new expertise and competence that can take you to a new level?”

It’s all about ‘unlearning,’ recognizing that what you know and have is not always the way to the next step, but sometimes the roadblock to it. This is tough for me, but so intriguing and so inviting. My problem is that I don’t like to look stupid (translation: incompetent). At some visceral level I’d rather keep doing what I know how to do and improve it, and maybe kid myself that I can simultaneously learn the new thing and gradually let it replace the old one. That isn’t impossible, but the facts are that I’m too busy (not proud of that) to keep up the old and master the new, and my ties to what I already know undermines my investment in the new.  It’s like learning to use your left hand when your right hand is still perfectly able to do everything.

God is in favor of new things. God lets old things die; sheds a tear, but lets them go. Creation implies brand new, not gradually evolving from the old. Resurrection isn’t reworking, it is death and a brand new life.

Another of my life verses:The Lord says, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago.Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now!” Isaiah 43.18-19a TEV

As the pastor of Jacob’s Well ( unlearning is more important than learning for me right now because I’m getting plenty of new ideas, hopes and inspirations.  The obstacle is clearing room in my head and heart to allow those great things to take root and grow.

I’ll chase down some of the areas I’m trying to unlearn in postings to come. I’d love to hear what others are willing to unlearn, and what it is that is so attractive, so promising, so wonderful that they are willing to go down that risky path. It must be a treasure of great worth!

Why ‘precarious’?

Why ‘precarious’? Well, I’m a sailor. I don’t get to sail too often, but it is a passion for me and the main way I get to sail is by taking groups out. I took what I love to do most and made a ministry out of it at the church I served. If you’ve ever wandered through a marina you have noticed the wide range of names of boats, each reflecting something about the owner. With that in mind we ask everyone on our trips, “If you were a sailboat on the journey that is your life, what would the name of that boat be?” For me the name was obvious, my boat is The Precarious.

To be precarious is to be on the edge of what is safe, risk-free, known. I know all my life isn’t lived on the margins, but my calling is to go there and explore them, to discover what God is up to out there where many are unwilling to go.

One of the fun things about being precarious is that it isn’t only full of possibility, but it wakes people up. People step aboard with a little (or a lot) of fear and trepidation. By joining the journey they’ve made a few important decisions; they will trust me on the journey of discovery, and they aren’t expecting status quo.

I’m also a pastor. It isn’t just an occupation. It is who I am – my wife and kids are painfully aware of this, I think. This blog is intended to be the truth of my precarious journey as a pastor. This isn’t the path of making sure everything works out, so my posts will contain as many “won’t do that again’s” as it will “wow, that worked great’s.” What being precarious does is open me up to God’s promise which is the verse I cling to more than any other…

The power of God at work within us can accomplish abundantly far more than we can ever ask or imagine. Ephesians 3.20 (my version)

Thanks for reading.