Thinking Out Loud

November 4, 2018

College and University Seniors Asking, “What’s Next?”

Filed under: Christianity, education — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:46 am

Three years ago I met with a woman who told me that her son started sending out resumés when he was only in his first year of a four year university program. He’d had offers already and still had years to go before graduation.

As it worked out, later in the same day I met with another woman whose son was on the precipice of college and doesn’t have a plan. He was definitely university material, but there wasn’t a clear vision of which school to pursue and what program to take.

In the latter case, we tend to expect that things will crystallize, at the very latest, by the end of the college experience. They may jump in with shaky feet, but they will tweak their course load as they experience academic disciplines that are foreign to the high school experience, and eventually come up with something that catapults them into the working world, or more specialized graduate school education.

But that scene doesn’t play out for everyone. What if you’re approaching the end of four years without a fixed plan? And what if you’re doing that surrounded by the type of people who were getting career offers while still an undergrad?

I follow the blog of such a university student. There’s a reference here to opportunity which may play a part. Or at least perceived opportunity. Some times it does seem as if all the breaks go to others.

James 4 - Do not say tomorrowHowever, I also recognize that there are times when the people who seem to have life all planned out need to remember to be humble, and perhaps write their plans in pencil, not in ink. (See the Bible passage at right.)

Anyway, here’s what the student in question wrote:

So, today I’ve been feeling pretty useless.

As my university life approaches its end, I’ve been starting to think about what I’m going to do afterwards and I’ve got nothing. It seems that everyone in my year is smarter than I am and more creative. Many of them are Type-A personalities that have a billion projects going on at once, many of them are far more traveled than I am, and on top of that most of them are prettier then me.

I was feeling this way, but then I started wondering about this idea of ‘useless’. Can a person be useless? I definitely feel like I’m falling behind everyone I know, but at the same time I can think of skills that I have and abilities that I can offer if given the chance. Or maybe I have to make those chances myself but I have no idea how to do that and I find the prospect overwhelming so let’s just forget that for now.

I find it helpful in these moments of self-doubt to know exactly what I’m doubting. It’s easy to say ‘I’m useless’ but if that’s not really how I feel then I’m not going to get anywhere. My problem isn’t feeling useless, it’s feeling unused. It’s a fear over lack of opportunity and an insecurity over a perceived lack of affirmation. I don’t feel like I can’t do anything, I feel like I haven’t done anything.

No one is useless. I don’t believe that anyone is made without something to offer. Sometimes we just don’t get the right chances, at least in a given moment. I’m sure there are things I could do and do amazingly but nobody’s asking for them right now.

If there’s anyone reading this who feels the same way, I hope that you stay strong and get your chance to shine. Correction: You already shine, I just hope that somebody notices. 

The last paragraph resonates with me on a personal basis. When I was at that stage of life, my role model was Joseph. Six years in the prison hoping somebody would notice; and especially that one person in particular would remember a promise. 

Did I ever have my resolution; a Joseph moment where I was reinstated or recognized or pressed into service somewhere? I’m not sure that it always works that way. I think we need to do everything that we can do before God will do everything he can do.

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August 12, 2018

I’m Proof That IQ Tests Alone are Not a Descriptor of Intelligence

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:57 am

I’m one of those kids who skipped a grade in elementary school. Well, I effectively skipped, doing grades 3, 4 and 5 in two years. To use the term in use at the time, I was accelerated.

As early as High School I found myself questioning that process. It wasn’t just that I was surrounded by students a year older, but I was beginning to realize that IQ testing alone doesn’t prove overall intelligence. A gifted student is one thing and one thing only: Gifted at test-writing. And a certain type of test-writing at that.

As I get older, there are times I feel downright stupid, for lack of a better word. For example:

  • Organization: I can back-time things so that I get places in a timely manner, but putting the actual schedule together necessary to create those time deadlines is another matter entirely.
  • Adaptation: I am realizing that I have a tremendous capacity to be overwhelmed. Especially in unfamiliar situations.
  • Mechanics: You’ve heard of people who can take things apart, but can’t put them back together again? Well, I can’t take them apart. My made up word for my condition (which uses the 2nd word incorrectly) is “mechanical derisions.”
  • Spatial Perception: If we’re going on a long trip, it’s a given that my wife will pack the trunk of the car. I’m not avoiding work; I will do all the unpacking and carrying-in of everything; I just find placing the puzzle pieces together daunting.
  • General Perception: I can stare right at something and not see it. Maybe it’s because I was working next door to a pet food store, but the word I came up with for this was “visual dysplasia.”
  • Communication: This one, I know will astound you, given that I am writer, but perhaps in my penchant for making up words as in the two examples above, it becomes clear that at times, I have a bit of a contempt for language instead of utilizing it properly.
  • Memorization: This is an age thing, but my ability to commit things to memory is definitely on the decline. Especially peoples’ names.

So what do I get right?

People who find themselves weak in certain areas will often go out of their way to compensate. I feel that what I bring to the table are:

  • Connectivity: The ability to network people, resources and organizations, to create instant analogies which help people understand.
  • Humor: A good sense of humor will save you in all types of situations.
  • Compassion: I was advised not to go into pastoral ministry because I’m “not thick-skinned enough.” I took that as a bit of a compliment.
  • Creativity: Not everyone you meet will write a book (or start a blog), or compose a song, or paint an abstract landscape, or prepare an amazing meal.
  • Quick Thinking: The ability of think on your feet will also save you in various circumstances.
  • Faithfulness: I see this as a spiritual value above all, but sticking it out will earn you the respect of people.
  • Faith: Distinct from the above, even misplaced faith is at the very least a recognition that there are powers and forces which are transcendent, which I would argue leads to…
  • Humility: I think a humble spirit will get you further in life than arrogance.

The point is…

…we’re all not the same. Even so-called smart people can be smart in different areas, hence the idea of multiple intelligences, which I can’t mention without sharing the graphic below. But because this is long already, and it’s the weekend, we’ll leave it there!

Image: Source

January 30, 2016

When Worship Leaders Actually Minister

This week, we had much discussion about a pivotal event in my wife’s worship leading career, that came about after I rediscovered this blog post in the archives. Even then, it was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


November 21, 2015

For The University Student Looking for a Window into the Next Chapter

Filed under: education — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:32 am

Today I met with a woman who told me that her son started sending out resumés when he was only in his first year of a four year university program. He’s had offers already and still has years to go before graduation.

Later in the day I met with another woman whose son is on the precipice of college and doesn’t have a plan. He’s definitely university material, but there isn’t a clear vision of which school to pursue and what program to take.

In the latter case, we tend to expect that things will crystallize, at the very latest, by the end of the college experience. They may jump in with shaky feet, but they will tweak their course load as they experience academic disciplines that are foreign to the high school experience, and eventually come up with something that catapults them into the working world, or more specialized graduate school education.

But that scene doesn’t play out for everyone. What if you’re approaching the end of four years without a fixed plan? And what if you’re doing that surrounded by the type of people who were getting career offers while still an undergrad?

I follow the blog of such a university student. There’s a reference here to opportunity which may play a part. Or at least perceived opportunity. Some times it does seem as if all the breaks go to others.

James 4 - Do not say tomorrowHowever, I also recognize that there are times when the people who seem to have life all planned out need to remember to be humble, and perhaps write their plans in pencil, not in ink. (See the Bible passage at right.)

Anyway, here’s what the student in question wrote:

So, today I’ve been feeling pretty useless.

As my university life approaches its end, I’ve been starting to think about what I’m going to do afterwards and I’ve got nothing. It seems that everyone in my year is smarter than I am and more creative. Many of them are Type-A personalities that have a billion projects going on at once, many of them are far more traveled than I am, and on top of that most of them are prettier then me.

I was feeling this way, but then I started wondering about this idea of ‘useless’. Can a person be useless? I definitely feel like I’m falling behind everyone I know, but at the same time I can think of skills that I have and abilities that I can offer if given the chance. Or maybe I have to make those chances myself but I have no idea how to do that and I find the prospect overwhelming so let’s just forget that for now.

I find it helpful in these moments of self-doubt to know exactly what I’m doubting. It’s easy to say ‘I’m useless’ but if that’s not really how I feel then I’m not going to get anywhere. My problem isn’t feeling useless, it’s feeling unused. It’s a fear over lack of opportunity and an insecurity over a perceived lack of affirmation. I don’t feel like I can’t do anything, I feel like I haven’t done anything.

No one is useless. I don’t believe that anyone is made without something to offer. Sometimes we just don’t get the right chances, at least in a given moment. I’m sure there are things I could do and do amazingly but nobody’s asking for them right now.

If there’s anyone reading this who feels the same way, I hope that you stay strong and get your chance to shine. Correction: You already shine, I just hope that somebody notices.

If you want to leave a comment today — especially some encouragement — you can do so at the original blog post.

March 10, 2015

Echoes of a Life that Might have Been

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:03 am

img 031015

Take your Bibles and turn with me to…

In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.

Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.

“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”

And at that, we were done.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…

I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.

Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…

Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.

But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…

After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.

But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…

We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.

I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.

But of late the opportunities have diminished.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…

Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.

It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…

img 031015

December 13, 2010

How Not To Run a Youth Banquet

When it came time to sign up for bringing food to the youth Christmas banquet, there was no need for my youngest son to deliberate.   He loves Caesar salad, and loves it done right.   Furthermore, he’s taken a culinary course, he’s worked a paying job in the food services industry, and he also comes by his kitchen talents through hereditary factors, given that when I met his mother she was the food services director of a Christian camp.

So when he was preparing to take his salad to the church, he was very careful to pack the ingredients individually — the bacon bits, the croutons, the lemon wedges and the dressing — to be tossed just before the banquet began.

Instead, he found the kitchen occupied by some older women he didn’t know who assured him that they knew what to do with a salad, and told him to, “Get out of the kitchen.”

Strike one.

His table was the third one called up to the serving table, and it was at that moment he was horrified to discover that instead of mixing the bacon bits, croutons and dressing, they had simply placed them randomly on the table; but the lemon wedges were scattered throughout the greens, making the whole thing look like a lemon salad.

Strike two.

At that point, I would have set my own plate down and done what needed doing, but he was so devastated by what he saw that, like a deer caught in the proverbial headlights, he didn’t quite know what the etiquette was for a moment like the one he was experiencing.

So…his salad was not received with the enthusiasm he expected, and this is a kid whose feelings can be somewhat fragile.  But he decided to just carry on as if it wasn’t happening and enjoy the rest of the meal.   When it came time for desert, he discovered his bacon bits were still being offered, and in fact were experiencing a new-found popularity.   Apparently the kitchen crew didn’t know what they were.

Strike three.

When he went into the kitchen to gather up his left0ver salad, he discovered that they had thrown everything in the garbage.   Good, edible food; prepared in love and submitted — in addition to a $10 admittance charge — by a family that buys 90% of everything we eat from the discount food shelves because we don’t actually have a normal food budget.   By this point he was mortified.

Strike four?

We’ll come back to this story in a minute.   Believe me.

The rest of the banquet had some good moments.   Kid Two (aka Kid, Too) has a great attitude and can always find the full half of the glass.   But when he got in the car he had to vent his frustration and anger, and so that the night didn’t end with just ugly memories, we went for a drive to the town park where they had a number of Christmas lights set up, and walked around the display for about ten minutes.     Yes, I know; great parenting move.

Now then, back to the banquet.

How is that people who lack basic interpersonal skills (“Get out of the kitchen”) and lack basic culinary skills (not knowing how to toss or serve a salad), and lack basic Christian stewardship (throwing good food in the trash) come to be in charge of the kitchen at the youth banquet?   Did nobody else volunteer?   Could the youth not have staged their own banquet without adult supervision?

This sort of crap happens far too often in local churches.

Sunday after Sunday, Mrs. Green sits at the organ with two hands and one foot playing what sounds like entirely different sounds.

Week after week, Mr. Black makes a display of ushering on the west side in a manner that is totally distracting, seating people in the front row during solos and prayers and the sermon, and totally distracting people from the act of worship in the process.

Service after service, Mrs. Jones puts up the lyrics to the wrong songs on the PowerPoint screen, or worse, seems to inexplicably fall asleep (or something)  in the middle of a song leaving the screen locked on the second part of the second verse, and the audience standing with shrugged shoulders and nothing to sing.

Does nobody care to give their best to God?

(Let me add, parenthetically, that errors do happen.   I spent the better part of the week of November 28th beating myself up over missing a cue on an instrumental part in a Sunday worship service; and there are two errors in our music video which nobody else would notice, but they drive me nuts.)

There has to be allowance for the fact that people aren’t perfect, and the church has to be a place of grace, and God’s people agents of grace.   However…

It’s time to consider the need for confrontation.   So I have provided here, for your use, some phrases you can cut and paste and send off to Mr. X or Mrs. Y. in the hope of reclaiming the pursuit of excellence:

Dear __________,    It has come to our attention that you can’t really sing.   Your pitch is terrible, your song selection is most often totally inappropriate, but most important, the world has changed and the musical and lyrical expectations for church music have shifted somewhat as well.  Thank you for your help in the past, but now we’re going to move on.

Dear __________,    It’s true that gas was once 49 cents a gallon, there were only three television stations, and you actually shared your phone line with another family through a ‘party line’ system, but this is now and the junior highs are tired of these stories, and don’t quite get the point.   We’ve hired a part-time youth worker who will be taking over the group next week.

Dear __________,   It’s not easy being the church sound engineer, especially when people keep craning their necks and looking back every time there’s a glitch, but in fact there’s been a lot of glitches and a lot of neck craning lately; the mics are never turned on in time, or it’s too loud, or you can only hear the alto and tenor parts when the trio sings, never the melody.   We’re going to offer this job to someone else in next week’s bulletin.

Dear __________,  For twenty years our children’s ministry has been defined by your presence in the Toddler room, but with the passing of time we think that what was once a labor of love has become a bit of a chore; especially given our recent insight that all the children in the room are totally frightened of you.     So if you don’t mind, we’d like to pass the baton to a series of helpers and invite you to simply enjoy the service in the main auditorium next week.

Dear __________,   There’s nothing worse than going to church and then leaving and in between nobody spoke to you; so we appreciate your years of frontline ministry as a door greeter.    But as the first person people meet when they attend church for the first time, the job unfortunately carries with it a responsibility for setting the tone for the whole image of the church.   We’d like to change that image up a bit in the weeks to come.

Okay, maybe these don’t sound very nice.   Maybe they can be improved on.   Maybe they can’t.  Or maybe there isn’t a nice way to deal with musicians who can’t play, Sunday School workers who scare the kids, or kitchen help that can’t keep the banquet dinner rolls warm without burning them.

I just hated to see my son in the situation of being hurt, horrified, mortified, devastated and having his favorite food insulted.    Hurting feelings is dumb, and as I’ve written here before, the things done in church kitchens matter more than anyone realizes.

May 25, 2010

Five-Fold Worship Leaders

Today’s blog post is a guest post from my wife, Ruth Wilkinson, who, as you’ll notice, writes even longer posts than I do.  But I really hope you’ll take the time.

This is actually a blog post that’s been many years in the making, and something that both of us have been thinking and talking about for a long, long time.


A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation.  Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions.  People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers.  The best we could do was share their questions and their pain.  Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship.  I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week.  That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry.  That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness.  But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him. (more…)

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