Pastoral Renewal Leave Update #4 (8/3/2015)

It has been a while (3 weeks) since I have provided an update. My apologies. It would border on offensive for me to say that I have been “too busy” to provide an update. Let’s just say that I have chosen to devote my time to other activities.

We just wrapped up week number seven of Pastoral Renewal Leave. Since the last update, Laura and I finished up our camping adventure together, and then I took a short backpacking trip by myself.


This particular backpacking trip was a mixed bag. The hike itself, in the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin, was reasonably challenging. However, there was very little “payoff” for the difficult hiking. By “payoff” I mean that the end of each day’s hiking did not result in a beautiful view, a babbling brook, a peaceful lake, or other feature typically associated with backpacking in the Midwest. It was just woods. Trees, trees and more trees. Very close around you at all times. So there was never that feeling of, “Yea, I am tired, but boy was it worth it!”


I think this is a valuable analogy for ministry. Often we can get caught up in the “hiking” part of ministry – the specific programs that we have developed – and we forget about the “payoff.” If we are tired and sweaty from “doing ministry,” we can fool ourselves into thinking we have accomplished something. But if lives are not being transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we have not really accomplished the mission. As we look to the future for Gurnee Community Church, the focus will be much more on whether or not lives are being transformed (the biblical term for this is “bearing fruit”), and less on whether we are busy at our ministry programs.

Despite some of the disappointments of this particular hike, it did give me a lot of time alone with God and with my own thoughts. It gave me some well needed time to reflect on my own attitudes and thought patterns. One of the common patterns in my life is for me to get surly, frustrated and even downright angry when things don’t go according to plan or the way that I expected them to go. This happens over the most insignificant of things, and my response is typically very disproportionate to the situation. I will spare you the details of the hours of introspection and prayer, but God has led me to some very helpful conclusions.

If you recall from “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” one of the symptoms of emotionally UN-healthy spirituality is “ignoring the emotions of anger, fear, and sadness.” That has been me, in a very big way. I have discovered that my anger is really a defense mechanism that protects me from fear. Anger is not the core issue, but fear. I am afraid. So what is there to be afraid of when something doesn’t go as I expected, or the way I think it should, or the way things were planned? The conclusion that I have come to is that I am afraid that I will be seen as someone who can’t handle the situation – as someone who isn’t good enough.

For most of you, that will seem irrational. And it is, in fact, irrational on the surface of it. But this is something that is happening below the surface for me. It is something that is the result of situations and experiences I have had, especially during my childhood. As a result of many factors, there is a lie that I have come to believe that governs much of my behavior: You don’t have what it takes. You can’t handle this. You are in over your head. You are not good enough.

There is still more that God needs to reveal in all of this, but I am sharing this with you at this early stage with the hope that it will be encouraging: Your pastor has “stuff” below the surface too, and he is also on the journey toward emotionally healthy spirituality. God has already begun to speak truth to my spirit and replace the lies about myself that I have been operating under. And this has already begun to change my attitudes and responses to things.

One of the ways that this has already had an impact is in my response to changes in “the plan.” I had originally planned this backpacking trip to be 4 days/3 nights. I had planned out a tentative route and stopping points. The first two days and nights went reasonably according to how I had planned things out, but by the morning of the third day, I was starting to feel like the plan should change. I felt compelled to hike all the way back to the car rather than stop part way for a third night. The internal struggle was huge. We have plans for a reason! I have geared up for three nights. I have been carrying food for another whole day. If I bail out now, I carried all of that extra weight for nothing! I told people that I was going to hike for four days – they will think I wimped-out.

But I tried to incorporate everything that God had been teaching me over the last few days. I realized that the only plans that are perfect are God’s plans, not my plans, and God seemed to be telling me head home today. I also realized that the idea of people thinking I had “wimped-out” was not based in reality, but in my own “issues.”

So I hiked all the way out (a rather grueling nine miles that I did all before lunchtime). I changed the plan! This was a really big deal for me. I drove home and cleaned up, and then I discovered why God had prompted me to head home: Lifetime GCC member and former Mayor of Gurnee, Dick Welton, was in the hospital in very critical condition. His condition had just changed, and it was anticipated that he would not survive the night. I was able to go to the hospital, pray with his family, and say goodbye to Dick.

Dick passed away during the night. If I had stuck with my original plan, I would still have been in the woods, 300 miles away.

God had a better plan.

He always does.

I am learning.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Chris

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Pastoral Renewal Leave Update #3 (7/14/2015)


I haven’t worn a watch for four weeks. For those of you who know me well, that is a really big deal. I have lost track of what day it is. Not just what date, but even the day of the week. I don’t have a schedule to keep, or any appointments, so there is no chance of being late for anything. Time has lost much of its previous hold on me. It only matters whether it is light or dark outside, and even those parameters are flexible.


(Fishboil in Ephraim, Door County, WI)

We left Green Lake, WI and spent the better part of this last week in Door County, before heading to our current location on the shore of Lake Superior in Munising, MI. Even though I have now been away from the office for four weeks, and away from home for over a week, I have been reminded over and over again, in big and small ways, that everything is running just fine without me! Things that I have always assumed depended on me are functioning very well. God is still on His throne and running the universe just fine without me.

I have had more opportunity to study and reflect on what we should be doing as a church to be effective and fruitful in transforming the lives of people and our community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So far my big take-away is that we are not far off of the mark. We already have the healthy DNA that seems to allude many congregations, and we have already made many important changes over the last 5 to 10 years. This is very encouraging. The future of GCC will not be a major overhaul of our entire church culture, but will likely be small shifts in focus in a few key ministry areas that will allow more people in our community to hear about, respond to, and grow in the grace of God.

While we were in Door County, we took the tandem bike for a spin almost every day: first around Potawatomi State Park where we were staying, then through Peninsula State Park, and then we took the bike on the ferry out to Washington Island and spent the day riding there. Each ride was unique, challenging, and enjoyable in its own way. But one thing became quickly obvious: each ride was easier than the previous. It was not because the routes where easier or shorter, but because we were getting stronger and more skilled at handling the bike. Sometimes the same activity is a different experience the next time around because WE are different.

IMG_20150709_154853687 IMG_20150710_141046624

In a similar way, much of what we will need to do in this next season of ministry as a church is just more of the same things we have already been doing. They will seem different, and will have different results, because WE are different. The makeup of our congregation is always changing, and individuals have grown significantly in their faith.

Since arriving here in Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we have only had two major outings. The first was the laundromat. Steamy, noisy, and a fun-factor of zero. But we have been away from home for a week, and we were running out of underwear. Very ordinary, very dull, but very necessary. By taking care of this, it made our second outing possible, which was a four hour kayak tour of the Pictured Rocks shoreline of Lake Superior. Spectacular, breath-taking, and a fun-factor of 10. But without the ordinary activity of laundry, the extraordinary activity would not be possible. Yes, we could have gone kayaking in dirty underwear, but stick with me, I have point…

IMG_20150712_165926473IMG_20150712_161007513 IMG_20150712_164001022In a similar way, many of the changes we will see in this next season of ministry at GCC will not seem extraordinary. They will likely be very ordinary, or even seem dull and insignificant, but they are changes and efforts that will make room for the extraordinary work that the Holy Spirit will do. I want to be looking for the next big thing that God is doing among us, not just the next big ministry program that has worked somewhere else.


Feeling so relaxed that Jimmy Buffet would seem “uptight” by comparison,

Pastor Chris

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Pastoral Renewal Leave Update #2 (7/6/2015)

One of my often quoted lines from the Lord of the Rings is when Sam and Frodo begin their long journey – the journey that is the central plot of the whole story – and Sam says to Frodo, “This is it, Mr. Frodo. If I take one more step, it will be the furthest away from the Shire that I have ever been.”

This has now become our catch-phrase for Pastoral Renewal Leave. Today marks the end of three weeks away from the office. This is the longest that I have ever been away from work or school in last 31 years. I had full-time summer jobs starting at 16 years old. The quarter system that my college used allowed only 2 weeks at Christmas time. I graduated on a Saturday and began working on Monday – that was 25 years ago. Although I have always used all of the vacation time allotted me each year by the different organizations I have worked for, including GCC, I have never taken more that two weeks at one time. This past week definitely had a “it seems like I should be heading back to work” feel to it. But I muscled through, and as we have now embarked on our camping adventure, I am now feel like I am in the full swing of “renewal.”

There is another parallel to Sam and Frodo leaving the Shire. Sam prefers the familiarity of the Shire. I am a lot like that. I like the familiar. I like routines. They make me feel safe and un-anxious. That is why the first stop on our camping tour is the Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin, a place that we have returned to every summer for the last 17 years. But not just the Conference Center, but the same exact campsite: Tower View #3. It is a piece of ground that seems unaffected by time. We know all of the protruding roots around the campfire that we perpetually trip over. The trees look the same. The shower-house is the same. Ahh, the comfort of it all.



But unlike any other year, when we arrived at our campsite, a friendly gentleman rode up in a golf-cart and introduced himself as Dave, the Campground Host. If there was anything we needed, we were supposed to let him know. Sorry Dave, I know you mean well, but stop messing with tradition. This campground has never had a “host” before, and we’ve done just fine!

After my momentary (and thankfully “internal”) outburst, I thanked Dave for stopping by. Today we did indeed have a need (a problem with the power at our site), and flagged Dave down for some help. I realized that adding a helpful new service – a campground host – did not take away from the familiarity that is so comforting to me.

As I reflect on where we should be headed as a church in this upcoming season, it will necessarily involve change. That can be scary. Part of what we do as a church is provide a place that feels like home, a refuge from the chaos of a rapidly changing world. Tradition in the church is important. However, as the world changes, the ways that we connect people with Jesus also need to change, or we will fail to reach people. Hopefully we can find ways to add ministry methods that will be effective at reaching people without taking away from those things that are familiar and comforting.

Today’s crazy adventure: Laura and I took our new tandem bicycle for a ride from our campsite, through the Conference Center grounds out to a bike path at the main road, and then on to the local pizza place. About 8 miles round trip, with pizza and gelato in the middle. The only hitch was that it poured on us! People driving by us either thought we were very adventurous, or they thought we were idiots. I choose “adventurous.”


Feeling very relaxed,

– Pastor Chris

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Pastoral Renewal Leave Update #1 (7/1/2015)

I promised I would provide updates. I didn’t promise how frequently.

These first two week have been a strange journey. I have learned a lot about myself, and life, and work; but very little has gone as I anticipated.

I think that I naively expected long periods of quiet, unhurried reading and reflection and prayer, and I expected that to start right away. While I am convinced that this will happen during this leave, very little of that has happened yet. This has been the result of a variety of factors.

First – and this is the one that was known and planned on – is that these first 2 1/2 weeks is the only time that Thea will be at home. After finishing up her Spring semester, then moving immediately into a week long “intensive” class, she hopped on a plane to Dallas for two weeks of training with Pioneer Bible Translators for her upcoming internship. Tomorrow night she will leave for Italy and Africa for 5 months. So we have tried to maximize the time together, including a few days away at Green Lake Conference Center (Green Lake, WI, pictured below) with the whole family. You can keep up with Thea’s adventures at .


Secondly, I have spent much of the last two weeks completing projects around the house that I have been wanting to do but had not found the time up until now. Like I have heard many retired people say, “I don’t know how I got ANYTHING done when I was working!” But getting these things “off the list” has been a good thing for me and for my particular personality.

Lastly, there has been some crisis in the lives of people close to us, and I have spent I great deal of time investing in their lives and trying to be as helpful and supportive as possible. This had the potential to make me resentful, because I don’t typically respond well when plans change. But instead, I have seen the hand of God in all of this, putting me in a situation where I had the time available to give when needed. I would not have been nearly as physically or emotionally available for them if I had not been on leave.


  1. I have done some reading, some reflecting and “contemplative stuff,” but so far my habits are not dramatically different. Moving in the right direction.
  2. I have still been operating in “Task Mode,” which is my default. The tasks are different, but the thinking is the same. Again, small changes are evident, and I am moving in the right direction.


  1. I am not nearly as critical to the successful operation of GCC as would like to think. Things are operating just fine without me, and this is a good lesson in perspective for all of us.
  2. The process of rest and renewal is more complex that merely bumming around, napping, and reading. I am trying to embrace that complexity.
  3. I adore my wife. I already knew that, but more unhurried, uninterrupted time that I get to spend with her, the more I am reminded of what and incredible example of God’s grace she is to me. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on June 23 by spending the day downtown Chicago (below is a picture of us eating lunch at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock building).


  4. There is a lot of brokenness in this world. There is also a lot of joy to be found. Life is lived to the fullest when we find joy despite our brokenness, which is only possible in Christ. This is the essence of the mission of the church: Helping people find Jesus so they can move from brokenness to joy in this life and for eternity.

COMING UP: Thea leaves for Italy tomorrow, and then Laura and I will leave for an extended camping trip for several weeks. Being away from home and the pull of “projects” will hopefully bring those unhurried times of reflection and prayer that I have been seeking. Or maybe God has something else in mind. Pray that we would experience God’s best for us, and that He would give me a flexible spirit to receive it well, even if it is not what I had planned.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Chris

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Pastoral Renewal Leave: FAQ#7 (last one)

This is the LAST installment of posts trying to answer the questions that people may have about my upcoming Pastoral Renewal Leave.

Q: This is all new to me, do other churches do this?

A:  The Elders did extensive research before proposing the PRL policy that was adopted by GCC in 2010. Pastoral Renewal Leave (or Clergy Sabbatical) is a very common practice within Christian churches, especially among churches and denominations that encourage pastoral tenure to be long-term (10 years or longer). For example, in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination, since 2005 all pastoral Calls to Ministry are required to include a provision for Renewal Leave. In the Disciples of Christ, most regions encourage a three-month Renewal Leave after five years. In the Evangelical Congregational Churches, they “urge all churches to consider a Renewal Leave for their pastor after the pastor has served a minimum of seven years at one church.”

I hope these FAQ’s have been helpful in understanding the need for and rationale behind taking this leave.

Here is a “bonus” FAQ based on a question that I have received directly from several people…

Q: “Are you coming back??”

A:  YES!!  That is the whole point of PRL – to come back!  As long as it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the congregation of GCC, I would like to remain in this role as Senior Pastor for many years to come. 

Make sure you subscribe to this blog if you are interested in seeing updates during PRL, which starts on June 15.

Grace and Peace,

– Pastor Chris

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Pastoral Renewal Leave: FAQ#6

This is the next installment of posts trying to answer the questions that people may have about my upcoming Pastoral Renewal Leave.  Specifically I want to talk about why this is a good thing for GCC as a whole, not just for me.

Q: What benefits can the congregation hope to receive from this Pastoral Renewal Leave?

A:  While it might be assumed that the only beneficiary of PRL would be me as the Pastor, it is our belief that such a focus falls short of what God intends for GCC.  Most obvious is the benefit to be received by the congregation through having a refreshed, healthy, invigorated, and retooled pastor.  These cannot be underestimated!  But there are other direct benefits as well.  When a pastor takes an extended time away, the church has the opportunity to reflect on its mission and ministry, experience the gifts of different leaders, discover their own individual gifts in ministry and leadership, and move toward a community-dependent ministry instead of a pastor-dependent ministry. While I learn to be more dependent on Christ in all things, the whole congregation has an opportunity to do the same thing.

Next week I will finish up this series with some comments about other churches and denominations that have Pastoral Renewal Leave as a regular policy.  For answers to other questions, please take a look at the comprehensive write-up on our website (, plus we encourage you to ask me or any of our Elders directly.

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Pastoral Renewal Leave: FAQ#5

This is the next installment of posts trying to answer the questions that people may have about my upcoming Pastoral Renewal Leave, and the third of a series answering the specific question of “Why?”

Q: Why is this even a good thing for GCC (Part 3 of 3)?

A (5): The pastoral role generally involves long, hard hours without weekends off.  Pastors are rarely afforded the luxury of having two consecutive days off every week that most laypeople enjoy.  A sound family life is often unobtainable without periodic times away.

A (6):  Pastoral Renewal Leave forces a congregation to examine the ways in which we become overly dependent on our pastors.  PRL helps congregations develop new leaders and other self-sufficiency skills and that will be invaluable in future effective ministry (more on this in next week’s post). 

The above answers (and all of the “answers” given in these FAQ posts) come from extensive research done by the GCC Board of Elders between 2008 and 2010 when PRL was adopted as a policy for GCC.

Next week I will delve a little deeper into how PRL is a direct benefit for the congregation. For answers to other questions, please take a look at the comprehensive write-up on our website (, plus we encourage you to ask me or any of our Elders directly.

Posted in Announcements, FAQ's, News, Thoughts