Music, Church, and Family

I post this in celebration of Autism awareness and acceptance month. Those of you who followed my other blog know that I have three kids, two of whom are boys on the autism spectrum and one who is a girl that is “gifted” and very creative. This post is about my middle guy, written in December 2017.

Music is a huge part of my family’s life. We sing, play instruments, and / or enjoy listening to one another at concerts. Church is also a huge part of our lives, of course, since I’m a pastor. What’s awesome, though, is how much my middle guy is invested in our church.

Here’s how much he’s invested in our church:

  • He memorized the locations of all the church campuses and how to get to each from anywhere in the area. He’s a freakin’ GPS.
  • He wants his senior pics taken at each campus.
  • In his piano lessons, he is working on a prelude, offertory, hymns, and postlude as well as the Doxology and Gloria Patri so he can play for church.
  • He once pointed out the location of a campus to some strangers and invited them to go to that service, even though it wasn’t the campus where we attend.

And that’s just the beginning. He also has phenomenal musical skills, so naturally he took part in the Christmas Cantata percussion section last weekend. He played vibes and chimes, and best of all, learned how to play crash cymbals (I got an education in how they aren’t easy even though they look like it) and tympani for the performance.

Let that sink in for a moment. At church, he learned how to play difficult orchestral instruments. Most churches that I have been part of have been squeamish about worshiping with kiddos on the autism spectrum, and teaching them has been waaaay out of the comfort zone. Like knocked out of the comfort zone ballpark.

I knew that my son’s teacher at the church, Mr. Matt, had a music ed degree. I was surprised to learn that was a support staff person for people on the autism spectrum prior to moving to our area.  I’ve known Mr. Matt for a few years and never knew this.

Church family, music, autism acceptance in one place? God is good. That’s how church can be!

Expertise, church size, and location are not what make a church able to minister with those who are different. The key is the willingness to follow Christ and accept those who are different, even when it is uncomfortable.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that my son started in the bell choir. The director and my son had to adjust to working together. The director needed my assistance to learn how to work with my son and my son needed assistance in order to accept direction and learn how to be in a group setting. It wasn’t easy, but the director and my son hung in there. The director was (and is) willing to learn how to work with my son, encourage his abilities. My son has now been a ringer for about 6 years and has some skills! I was shocked when he played 4 bells and 3 chimes at a fast tempo! He’s a confident ringer and has just blossomed!

Not only has my son learned, but the most important thing is that he has a place where he belongs. I’ve witnessed many times how the other teenage bell ringers treat him like family– greeting him, bossing him around, putting up with his bossing them around, etc. I’ve seen my son tell adults in charge that they are in the wrong key or off a beat, and the adults either realize they are indeed wrong and thank him, or tell him where he’s wrong, and they all move on. My son feels comfortable enough to offer and accept correction here. He knows that he belongs.

My prayer for the church is that we put our comfort aside and welcome all, regardless of their circumstance and be a place where those who are different belong. Because they do. We all do. It is the way of Christ. May you, dear reader, know the love and belonging that comes from Jesus.



Sometimes I read something seemingly unrelated to my life because I think it might be interesting. Such is the case with my latest read.

I just finished reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, MD. Gawande explains the vital use of simple checklists in operating rooms. These simple checklists have saved patient lives by catching seemingly routine things that are easily forgotten, like administering antibiotics prior to surgery in order to prevent infection. Gawande led a study with WHO to implement these checklists all over the world. The result was that surgery-related deaths and infection rates plummeted– so much so that Gawande questioned the findings ruthlessly before submitting the results.

Interestingly, it was the teamwork and communication around the checklist lead to greater outcomes. Gawande studied multiple disciplines that utilized checklists in order to develop the surgical checklist. In the construction firm he studied, even the lowest-ranked was counted as a valuable team member and could stop the process if she or he saw that something on the checklist was missing or incomplete. The success rates increased dramatically!

I felt really validated by this book. You see, when my sons were little, we developed checklists for EVERYTHING. Kids on the spectrum know when something, no matter how small, is missing. My kids also followed instructions very literally, and if a step was missing that we just figured they’d know, like taking off their shoes before hosing the mud off of them. So our checklists became very detailed, indeed! My checklists continued to be helpful for my ADHD self, and we have packing checklists saved that we print out for every trip, a decorating checklist for Christmas, and detailed checklists for cleaning chores.

Checklists even came in handy when we were in intensive family counseling, when we had a crisis surrounding our oldest kid. We made checklists for outings, play times, after school routines, hygiene, and safety. Each family member gave input and agreed to the checklists. We even had a checklist in place to determine if we needed to call a crisis line if my son was having difficulties. It was, ahem, intense. But it was also helpful to know that there was a plan in place if something were to go wrong.  And many times, going through the simple and intensive lists, we corrected mistakes before they developed into major issues. If we did have to take uncomfortable steps in a crisis situation, they weren’t surprises. Everyone was prepared and on board, even if they didn’t like it. This dramatically minimized the power struggles.

For 2018, I am making new checklists. One of the first I am going to develop is a Response Checklist, which I will go through before I respond to something that really ticks me off. I don’t think I’ll have to reinvent the wheel. There’s always the THINK list: Is what I’m going to say True?…Helpful?… Inspiring?… Necessary?…Kind?  I will also consider carefully and prayerfully my definition of “necessary.” For example, it’s not always necessary to prove I’m right! Another is a checklist of what to do if we face a financial crisis. That one is definitely a family project.

I am hoping that my checklists will be useful tools to navigate 2018. I know that by praying and planning when I am calm, God’s guidance and our preparation will allow us to handle whatever comes our way.

What checklists do you use/ think would be helpful?

Happy New Year!



Cage the Tiger


One of my favorite books is Friedman’s Fables by the late Edwin Friedman.  This classic contains fables for life.

One of my favorite fables is “The Friendly Forest.” In this story, a lamb and a tiger live with other animals in a friendly forest.  The lamb is understandably very afraid of the tiger.  The tiger is aggressive toward the lamb.  The lamb expresses concern to her neighbors. The other animals think that the lamb is being silly when it cowers from the tiger’s growls, stares, and other actions.  The tiger is just being a tiger.

After attempting to ignore the tiger, accept that the tiger is what it is (aggressive in nature), living in fear, and trying to get the other animals to support her, the lamb decides to leave the forest.  The other animals think she’s being silly, plead for her to stay, and decide to appeal to the tiger’s reasonable nature by having a meeting to work out the conflict.  The lamb is not so sure about this— her life is in danger! And if the tiger just being a tiger, and nothing is going to change, what’s the point? Finally, one of the less subtle animals speaks its mind.  The animal says that if they want the lamb and the tiger to live peacefully in the forest, they need to give up on making them communicate and cage the tiger.

This fable describes how I felt in my first parish as a pastor. There were tigers.  I was a lamb. When I complained, or asked for help dealing with the tigers, I was advised several times to talk to the persons, or think of what their gifts were and put them to work so they’d feel useful, or just ignore them because they’d always been that way and let things go in one ear and out the other, like everyone else did. No one thought of caging the tiger—especially not me.  I blamed the situation on my being ineffective or just plain incompetent.

Wrong.  After I left that parish I discovered that at least three young pastors had left the ministry after serving there. Another pastor shared that he stayed because he was just plain stubborn and wasn’t going to allow them to push him out. The person that followed me was burned out and anxiety-ridden at the end. A retired pastor said that that church was really hard on him and he had to take time to heal after his time there.  And when I shared with a past bishop what my first appointment was, the bishop’s reaction was, “Oh, dear!” and a shake of the head. I was one more lamb sent to a congregation of tigers.

I am really sick and tired of the tigers being free to destroy the lambs.  So sick of it, in fact, that I heard God’s call to conflict transformation ministry, and interim pastoring, in order to strengthen churches and cage the tigers. The church at large was slow to respond to my offers. I realize now that historically, we “nice church folks” just haven’t known what to do with those pesky tigers.

So, I write this post to give you pastors and other church leaders out there some guidelines for caging the tiger.  If you are in a situation where this process below seems too insurmountable because there are too many tigers at each step, have a consultant like myself come and guide the process.  (Pick me! Pick me!)

Constructing the Cage: Conflict Guidelines

  1. Study the scriptures about conflict. Lead Bible Studies on conflict. Make conflict an okay subject to discuss. Matthew 18 is a great starting place.
  2. Make ground rules, or conflict guidelines, based on these scriptures. Seek wisdom from people in the congregation that are trustworthy, wise colleagues, and your spiritual mentors.
  3. Share the ground rules and get buy-in from the non-tigers. (The tigers will only thwart this.) Discuss different scenarios.
  4. Make the ground rules official. Work according to your church’s polity / bylaws so that each step is above reproach, whether you are led by staff, council/board, elders, etc. (That way, for you UM’s, if they call your District Superintendent and complain, you can document the steps you have taken.) Have a congregational meeting and review the process that has led to the ground rules, remind them of the scripture, and if appropriate, have a congregational meeting to approve the ground rules. Note: Make sure that the ground rules state specifically how your congregation will handle conflict. Make it clear and appropriate to your context. You may want to keep your supervisor (District Superintendent, etc.) in the loop, too.
  5. Go over the ground rules and call attention to them ad nauseum. Read them at administrative meetings, post them in the hallways and bathrooms, put them on your office door, above the water fountains, make a puppet show… anything to make them part of your congregation’s culture.  Take time at your gatherings to go over a ground rule or two and explain it.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Model how to carry out the ground rules through role plays. For example, show them what to do if a “tiger” comes along and starts complaining.  Here’s a scenario when Matthew 18 is being followed.

Tiger: “I’m really sick of what’s going on around here.”

Person: “What do you mean?”

Tiger: “Pastor is awful.” (Proceeds to start gossiping and trashing the pastor.)

Person: (If necessary, cuts in) “Have your talked to the pastor?” (First step in conflict resolution is one on one conversation with the other person.)

Tiger: “No.”

Person: (Points to the rules on the wall as indicated in step 6.) “Well, then, that’s your first step.  When will you make time to do that?”  (Hint: offer to accompany the tiger if the tiger won’t go alone.)

With this simple role play, you will have equipped people in the meeting to take the first step of caging the tiger before a possible bloodbath.

  1. Follow the ground rules yourself. As a pastor I have had people come to me complaining about other congregants.  Rather than listen to gossip, I learned to direct the person back to the one they were mad at.  If they didn’t want to go alone, I offered to go with them.  It was surprising how many times huge conflicts immediately dissipated.  Funny how that happens.

These are the first steps to caging the tiger.  I’m here if you need active support!