Thursday, May 31, 2018

Notes From My Knapsack 6-6-18

Notes From My Knapsack 6-6-18

Jeff Gill


Five years, and some lessons still coming



In some ways, you're lucky you haven't heard about Philmont every two weeks for the last five years in this space.


Except I suspect you really have been.


It will be five years ago next week that a group of Scouts from Granville headed late one night up to Lake Erie, the Amtrak station in Sandusky, and the beginning of a cross-country train trip to New Mexico and the fulfillment of a long standing dream of mine. I got to be part of a backpacking trek with my son, spending ten days in the backcountry traveling around 100 miles up mountains and down valleys at Philmont Scout Ranch.


Philmont 2013 also happened to be the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the place as a high adventure camp for the Boy Scouts of America, a gift of oilman Waite Phillips. Phillips was not the Phillips 66 guy (they were relations), but he made a fortune in the early oil business, he had a taste for the Old West, and a gift for generosity. 2013 was also the 50th anniversary of the gift that added Baldy Mountain to the acreage, New Mexico's second highest peak at 12,441 feet. We rode the Southwestern Chief to Raton, New Mexico and right into a big summer . . . for forest fires nearby, smoke in the air, strange colors in the sunsets, and massive rearrangement of schedules.


The Scout motto is, after all, "Be prepared" and we adapted, adjusted, and overcame our challenges. My son outhiked me most days, but I was also dawdling to take pictures, write down notes in my little pocket booklet, and just to absorb as much of the experience as I could.


I think my son appreciated it; at least he said on our last day "Dad, I want to come back in 2038 for the 100th anniversary!" So he had to have enjoyed it at least a little.


For me, getting to the top of Baldy Mountain was a personal achievement, but getting to do it with my son (okay, he got there five minutes ahead of me, but you know what I mean) was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments.


The trek as a whole, though, was filled with a bounty of all-of-your-lifetime moments. For instance, I came to a whole new appreciation for water, clean water, drinking water. I literally have never drunk a glass of water the same way since those ten days.


And while every crew is different, and our crew had our conflicts and tensions as any group of ten males is likely to have on foot for a hundred miles, we looked out for each other, supported one another, and grew together across those fifteen days of travel and trek and the train back home. I have been involved in community building and leadership all of my life, but since that summer I think about group building and setting collective goals very differently than I did before.


And I came to deeply respect the man whose vision gave us this tool for leadership development. Waite Phillips was a gusher of aphorisms, most of them still quite quotable, but one of my favorites will round this reflection out: "What is really important is what you learn after thinking you know it all."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's still processing what he learned on the trail in 2013, and has more to say next time about that trip! Tell him about your road scholarship at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.    

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Faith Works 6-2-18

Faith Works 6-2-18

Jeff Gill


How long, O Lord? How long?


Psalms, II Peter, Habakkuk. They all ask it, in different forms, but a similar statement:


How long, O Lord? How long?


God sees things in the light of eternity. We are a little bit more short-term in our mindset than that, earthly creatures that we are.


How long?


To us, a year is a long time. To the Lord, a thousand years are like a day, or so the Bible tells us. We lack the perspective of a tree, or a rock, let alone the divine viewpoint of forever. Twenty minutes or two hours wait drives us to distraction, but that's not a long stretch of time in the cosmic view.


How long, O Lord?


I've now been in parish ministry for over thirty years, and so much has changed in that time. The historian in me makes me often skeptical of those who argue for "it's never been worse!" (or better) but the rate and amount of change in society, within our culture, driven by technology, in the last quarter-century or so, does seem to be without precedent. I reserve the right to disagree with myself later!


And this week, I cross a very interesting horizon, for me at any rate. I will have been the pastor of the congregation I serve for more than six years. I have never been at one church for more than six years since I was a child growing up in my hometown congregation. There, I had eighteen years of continuity . . . but as a minister, I've served in a number of churches for four years, once for five, and once before for six. Never have I been part of a congregation as a called preaching and teaching elder in ministry for more than six.


If some reading this think "well, he can't keep a job" I would understand! But when I was in seminary, we heard often that the average time at a church for an ordained minister was just over four years. It was even presented as a sort of positive to us, the experience of newness both for the preacher and the people in the church; I've heard more than a few lay leaders in congregations say "really, I'm not sure a minister should stay more than five or six years." And denominational leaders would state, with varying degrees of affirmation or regret, that 4.4 years was a standard tenure for serving clergy.


I've done some looking around for research, studies on this in recent years, and according to LifeWay Research this has crept up to six years more recently. In their analysis, I'm on the bubble. There's a mix of opinions and study on this question, and many consultants argue that nothing major can happen to transform a ministry or a congregation until about seven years in service. That makes a great deal of sense to me, actually.


In your first two years, you can make all sorts of changes and get away with it. The "honeymoon" it's called. Among experienced preachers, the third year is often called "the year of crisis," because that's when the forces of inertia and resistance start to push back. Make everything the way it had been, or slow up the transition, or just go away – these things do indeed happen around the three year mark. You either start to put down roots, or feel the cold winds of winter settle in around you, blowing your plans into icy frozen pauses.


Keep in mind that "average" is as likely to mean half at two or three years and half at ten or twelve. If six years at a church as preacher is the norm, you may find lots of six year tenures, but I suspect you find more short-timers, and a handful of long-term ministries.


I'd like to optimistically talk about the role and opportunities of long-term ministry next week . . . if I still can! But as I pass the six year mark into this new territory for me as a minister, I've got a few ideas about what this transition means, not just for the church I'm part of now, but for congregations in general.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's lived here for many years, but has been in a regular pulpit now for six years. Tell him what's changed since 2012 for you in faith formation and leadership development at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.