Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Whole Point of Faith - "We're Loaded"!

Talking about being a clergy-hubby
Guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.(1 Tim 6:20-12 - The Message)

My previous post - Bankrupt Without Love - certainly got some conversations going over the weekend! Sunday morning, for example, at least ten people asked me specifically if I'd been writing about them - and that was just at the early service! My answer was - always - that there are literally dozens of people working on my heart at any given time... "And you're one of them."

Rebekah - a.k.a. "The Preacher", must have been thinking along the same lines because she spent a couple of minutes during her sermon (the "So What" phase), throwing out categories of life challenge. "Am I getting personal yet?" she asked. Well, with somewhere around 400 people in church, the answer was a most definite "Yes".  

Here's the sermon, BTW, if you're interested. Rebekah tends to preach around 20-minutes and this one is 23. "The Lord Was With Him" It's a message about the bottom line for Joseph, who - even though his life was always challenging and often tragic - never forgot to recognize that God was with him.

Reality Show - 24/7:
As a Clergy-Hubby I find it critically important that I get this message right and that I represent it consistently in my life. Because my story really is a "live", constantly "on", 24/7 reality show.

Remember the 1998 movie, "The Truman Show"? Here's one plot summary posted on line: "Truman's life is a nonstop TV show. He doesn't realize that his quaint hometown is a giant studio set run by a visionary producer/director/creator...."

"The Preacher"
Well I realize that the tape is always rolling (we discussed that in an earlier March posting), and it's OK. In Truman's world he was the only one who wasn't acting. In my clergy-hubby world very few people are.

What this means is that there's no script, no rehearsal, no "cut", no "re-take", and no way of having any clue as to what the next few minutes, or hours, or days will bring. This means my relationship with God has to be authentic, and ongoing, and constantly renewed.

The point - I believe - of being leaders in any church is to demonstrate what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus and to encourage others along the way. 

Now, listen closely. Being a faithful "Follower of The Way" is not the same as "The preacher's family should be perfectly well-behaved, look squeaky-clean, keep an immaculate house, and live like poster-children for the Perfect Christian Family of the Year award."

Oh, please... G-M-W-A-S! (Feel free to work that one out for yourselves - it involves nausea and silverware!)

The lesson of Joseph the Dreamer is the The-Lord-Was-With-Him constant. What any congregation should witness in the preacher's family is faithfulness in the midst of struggle. That means not being afraid to cry in church and to ask for prayer when things are difficult. It means honesty about our own doubts and challenges. It's about falling flat on our faces sometimes but at the same time making it clear that God is with us.

God's faithfulness is a standard that calls to our own faithfulness - not our perfection!

I am a work in progress. Sometimes I'm just a piece of work. Rebekah is an amazing minister, but the real power of her witness is in the authentic, ongoing, dynamic friendship she has with God. That's what sustains us, not looking good and smiling cheesy smiles while flashing our perfect front. Otherwise we'd be just like those cheap strip-malls with fancy-looking facades designed to make any dump look classy from the street.

We follow Jesus, while in moment-by-moment reality we're often a few steps behind. But it's about the authenticity of the relationship, not the false appearance that everything is always picture perfect. 

Our prosperity comes in terms of knowing that God is with us. In terms of that truth, we're loaded.

A slice of fpcBrandon life

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bankrupt Without Love

This is  - to date - the most serious "Preacher's Husband" post I've prepared. In fact it may turn out to be too sensitive to actually publish. We'll see.

What's on my mind today is the close-up view the minister's spouse tends to get of the messiness of ministry. Oh, sure, everything I say about my home church being a phenomenal community of faith, and a place where affirmation and encouragement define the way that we love one-another, is all 100% true. But you don't get to be such a close family without bearing witness to some serious pain.

Fact is, pain is part of the definition of life. Struggle is a key element of growing up. If we fail to suffer then I fear that we will have failed to live. In this regard our church is authentic. This congregation is alive, so of course this wonderful collection of real-life people - who we love from the bottom of our hearts - run the gamut of tragedy, triumph, celebration and loss. We are privileged to be as much a part of the hardship as we are their joy.

And this has been a week where there's simply been too much heartache and heartbreak - not in terms of strife in the church but of pain in the lives of its members. The Preacher and The Preacher's Spouse are almost broken under the weight of it.

Relationships: I'm not talking so much about the cancer - although there's certainly more than enough of that terrible disease to occupy our prayers. And I'm not referencing the car accidents, the unemployment, the back surgeries, the heart conditions, the anxious wait for transplants, the loved-ones posted overseas, or the frail lives we see slipping away inch by inch - much as they concern us and are on our minds.

What hurts most - and sometimes leaves us frustrated and even angry - are the broken relationships. It's the failure of people at times to allow faith to work love's way into the core of their innermost selves. It's watching men... or women... or both... stop short when it comes to loving their spouse with enough grace, or patience, or self-giving sacrifice, or even offering the balm of simple kindness. It's watching spouses - and parents - withdraw from commitment, stiff-arming the promise of reconciliation found in and through covenant community.

Faith and Courage: It takes a lot of faith and even more of courage to follow Jesus when things are difficult at home; but there really is no alternative if we're serious about being healed. We can hold people's hands along the way, but at some point it becomes their journey - to either take or to turn away from - and it hurts like crazy to watch the people we love make a series of wrong choices.

It doesn't matter how many times we go over the essentials of love, or how readily a church full of shiny Christians nod their heads in agreement, or how sincere a friend is when you sit in their living room and pray and cry together... because when those same people put the brakes on and pull the curtain across their soul and shut out the light (for whatever reason) the result is always going to be more pain than their family can stand.

I've seen that happen more than I care to.

Just do it! - It's the hard slog-it-out discipline of choosing to love out loud. Being a Follower of the Way doesn't necessarily make this approach to love come easily. I like the way Peterson translates the iconic Corinthians13 passage in The Message. This is what needs to happen in every Christian home:

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
   Love doesn't strut,
   Doesn't have a swelled head,
   Doesn't force itself on others,
   Isn't always "me first,"
   Doesn't fly off the handle,
   Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn't revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.

There's enough pain in this world without letting one-another down.

That's this week, and what's on my heart and mind, from the perspective of "The Pastor's Husband"- a.k.a.  DEREK

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Communion of the Saints

Taken during worship at First Presbyterian of Brandon (Spring 2010)
Sometimes it amazes me how much joy I experience simply by being at church every Sunday. I enjoy the details - playing guitar in the Praise Band, teaching my adult Sunday morning class, singing the great hymns, hanging out with all those awesome people, leading my small group - but it's actually the "big picture" that really floats my boat this week.

It happened Sunday morning during the 11:00 "traditional" service (I have quotation marks around the word traditional because, even though we sing familiar hymns, follow a standard service order, use a pipe organ, involve a certain amount of liturgy, and have a robed choir, the experience at still comes off as anything but * traditional!). * What I'm referring to as "traditional" would more properly be expressed as "What people are used to"... or "business as usual"... or "same-old same-old" in the run-of-the-mill protestant congregation. And - duh - we're anything but run-of-the-mill at fpcBrandon!!!

There was a moment this week when a looked around at the room full of people. We were singing "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" and everyone was standing. I was around three rows back. I looked through the sea of faces and I saw Rebekah ("The Preacher") singing her heart out. I could see the choir singing their hearts out too. I glanced left and I glanced right and - because our pews are set out in a semi-circle - there was no view that wasn't filled with worshippers.

They were people, regular folks, standing together as one and simply being the body of Christ. They were dressed mostly in casual clothes but a few in a coat and tie; they represented every age group you can imagine; they came in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds; they are employed, unemployed, and under-employed; conservative, liberal and in-between. They are just people, but they seemed - in that moment - to emanate a certain light, clear and radiant, and they were animated in a way you don't very often see in a "main-line church".

I looked around. I "stopped time" in my consciousness. It was as if I had enough time in that moment to look almost casually at each person there, thank God for them by name, and then log the memory of their face before moving on to the next family. A good 250 plus people in 11:00 worship, yet I felt intimately connected to each one in the space of one line, during one stanza, during the singing of just the one hymn.

What I experienced was a small glimpse at "The Communion of the Saints." The slowing down of conscious time is not that unusual for me because I am learning to tell time in both chronos and kairos, and this was an example of the juxtaposition of the two. It was a "Kingdom of God" moment. Because the Kingdom of God is not restricted to pie-in-the-sky-when-I-die, but is a present moment reality - something that is made possible when I actively follow Jesus and that is actualized in the context of relationships when the church begins to live as if we really are the Body of Christ.

Lunch - we're always celebrating something!
As the clergy-hubby in this story, I'm privileged to know so many of our church people on a beyond the surface heart level. It comes with the territory (although I do know some clergy spouses who build deliberate walls to stop such intimacy from happening). You see, the transcendent experience I had in church this past Sunday comes - like those graduate-level classes in college - with a prerequisite requirement. This requirement is love.

I honestly believe that my role as The Preacher's Husband will only open me to this quality of blessing to the extent that I am willing to give myself away in terms of love.

I'll let John wrap up this post in his inimitable prose from 1 John 4:
  • God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister
Grace, Peace, and Genuine Love - DEREK

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let Love Be Genuine - Under the Microscope

Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:9-10)

Sunday at church, one of my friends smiled at me and observed that - "You gave Rebekah your Over-the-Glasses look." I offered some smart, tongue-in-cheek rejoinder and moved on without giving the comment a second thought. Later the exchange came back to me and I wondered what on earth she had seen that I had missed. Because I couldn't for the life of me figure out three things:
  1. That I even have an "over-the-glassses" look.
  2. Exactly what Rebekah had said or done to warrant my "over-the glasses" look.
  3. What my "over-the-glasses" look might possibly mean.
Obviously the conversation in question was 100% OK. My friend wasn't the least bit worried about me and Rebekah, and the communication protocols at our church are such that we'd have been the first to know if she was.

Granted, Rebekah gives me "a hard time" (in love) from the pulpit on a regular basis. That much I know. But what I didn't realize is the extent to which my responses in church have been noted and catalogued. This "Over-the-Glasses" look is evidently some kind of a classic!

No incognito for the clergy-hubby!
The fact is (and it's easy to forget), people really do notice the minister's family!

One reason I have been living outside of that particular loop of consciousness is the fact that I have never felt "under the microscope" here at First Brandon - even though we absolutely are. Additionally, the atmosphere of trust and mutual respect that pervades this community is so genuine that I've honestly never worried about how people look at me.

We've been here over 14 years now, and a lot of stuff has happened (teenagers... 'nuff said). But the congregation has been gracious enough to just roll with it all.

"Let love be genuine": 
So I'm wondering, maybe my church is exactly what the New Testament writer was thinking about when he penned the words "Let love be genuine"? In too many church settings it appears to be second nature to point the finger: at one another... at the preacher... at others in their denomination... at other denominations... at people in the world. But I just don't see any evidence of that at fpcBrandon, and I'm convinced that it's because the definitive theological value here is the practice of genuine love.

I've got to repeat that idea! The definitive theological value here is the practice of genuine love.

Today another one of my friends - Peggie - pointed out that, in Scripture, the role of "accuser" is typically associated with Satan. She said scripture points out that - because of Christ - the world is reconciled to God, and that "Our ministry is reconciliation - not condemning, finger-pointing, and mud-slinging."

In other words, the body of Christ is a place - the place - where we should be encouraging one another, where we fine-tune the ministry of reconciliation, and from where we're tasked to take the Imperative of Love out into the world; a world aching for the Good News.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Corinth 5)

Back to the microscope:
Come to think of it - vis-a-vis my "Over-the-Glasses" look this Sunday - I'd just had my hands all over a messy barbecue sandwich, and I'd gotten thick smudges all over the lenses. I think I gave Rebekah my "over-the-glasses" look because I couldn't see a thing looking through them!

It really is awesome that I haven't had to think about the fact that people notice pretty-much everything the preacher's family does. Instead, what I have noticed is the encouragement, and the prayer, and the support, and the respect, and the unbounded belief in us. It's the evidence of genuine love.

It's not so much a microscope as it is an amplifier. It's God reconciling the world, writ large.

In love - DEREK - a.k.a. "The Preacher's Husband"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Danger - God at Work: Hard Hat/Head Area!

Welcome! If you're looking for "The Preacher's Husband", then this is it. 100% of the content at this blog will be preacher-husband-relevant. This is the #1 place to look in the blog-o-sphere if you're at all interested in the Clergy-Hubby dynamic!

But it's also the beginning of Lent. So, if you want a devotional slant, I'd recommend hopping over to DEREK MAUL ( I plan to post thoughts and meditations pretty-much every day between now Easter Sunday.

Meanwhile, over at the church (, construction tuned up a notch this week. Not content with demolishing buildings, unearthing water mains, disconnecting the Internet and eviscerating the electricity, our friendly construction team are now digging large holes and reducing the parking lot to a large sand trap.

The sign, I believe, says it all. Not to be confused, of course, with "Hard Head" area. This is a church, after all!

We've been at First Brandon now for over 14 years. Rebekah was called as pastor and head-of-staff in late 1996. She became senior pastor almost 7 years ago - when the most excellent Tim Black came as associate - and then, just this past month, Earl Smith joined the team as parish associate.

Funny Aside: Rebekah is not big into the whole "ecclesiastical title" thing. She always talks about herself as "One of the pastors at First Brandon", and introduces Tim as "My colleague", or, "Pastor for Discipleship and Mission." What I find amusing is the number of preachers who introduce themselves as "Senior Pastor" when they're the only minister in the building!

Recently I interviewed the pastor of a 75 member church for a news story. He handed me a card with "Rev. John B____, Senior Pastor" inscribed in bold print. So I asked him how many other ministers the church had on staff? "None," he replied. "But my mom comes in to help with the bulletin and answer the phone two days a week." When I queried the accuracy of his job title he said this, "Senior Pastor is the going thing. All the guys I know call themselves Senior Pastor."

Meanwhile, back at the construction site: We've been a church "under construction" for the entire 14 plus years "The Preacher" has been on board. We've changed dramatically, grown in a dozen different ways, matured into a life-animated body of believers, stepped more fully into our potential as the Body of Christ, and redefined what it means to be a Presbyterian Community of Faith in this time and this place.

Spiritually, we've always been a "Hard Hat Area". So I think it's apropos, kind of poetic, really, that we're all dug up and muddy right now. It fits who we are and who - in Christ - we are becoming.

Don't get me wrong, preparing for a capital campaign, wrestling with all the challenges of raising literally millions of dollars in a 500-member church, moving the congregation into the "let's just do it" mentality, and then presiding over everything that comes with working and worshipping in the middle of a huge construction site... none of this is for the faint of heart.

But, I honestly do think that we should take a couple of those big earth-moving machines and incorporate the motif into the design of the next project, as a spiritual symbol. God, in many ways, really is like a massive back-hoe with a giant shovel.

God is constantly at work here, moving and shaking our foundations. And God - it turns out (and this should be no surprise) - is seldom that subtle.

Peace on the Journey - DEREK

Monday, March 7, 2011

Can't Duck the Public Life...

Recently I was speaking at a big Baptist Church in Atlanta. I'd just shared a story where Rebekah had a starring role. I was a few sentences into the next anecdote when I stopped for a moment and re-directed.

"I suppose you're wondering why my wife's name keeps coming up?" I asked, rhetorically. "Well she often asks the same question. Why, she says, do you use so many stories about about me when you're speaking, blogging, or writing a column for the newspaper?

"That's easy," I tell her. "I'll stop writing about you in the newspaper the day you stop talking about me in the pulpit."

I think we all know the answer to that.

SUNDAY MORNING: Ah, Sunday morning worship, the time when those of us married to "The Preacher" wonder what exactly our spouse is going to say about us during the sermon!

Yesterday was classic. Rebekah offered a detailed illustration featuring the fact that I have yet to return the Christmas tree to its hibernation spot in the attic (it's currently occupying a large piece of garage floor). She was in rare form and much spontaneous mirth resounded around the sanctuary.

It really was a good story, and it fit perfectly with the point she was making about our relationship with God... but - at least at the 8:30 service - I had no idea it was coming. One more very good reason, I'd argue, for staying wide awake and paying attention when your wife is preaching!

After church someone said something about what a mutually respectful relationship Rebekah and I have (true), and how great it is that Rebekah always asks my permission before she uses me in a sermon (occasionally true).

"To ask permission first," The Preacher responded, "I'd have to have actually known ahead of time that I would be using that story."

And to think I was one of the people who encouraged her when she made the switch to a more extemporaneous preaching style!

Like it or not, there is a real, unavoidable "public figure" dimension to being the preacher's spouse. And it's more than the ubiquitous "Last two seats at the remote end of the head table" thing or "Derek, would you lead us in the blessing?"

Sometimes you get to stand in the rain at a funeral, holding an umbrella over her head so she can speak, each trickle of water running down the sleeve of your best jacket a reminder of why this is a life, not a job. Other times it's fielding tricky phone calls, holding someone's baby while they talk to the preacher, serving tea to a bereaved family, chatting up a room-full of strangers at a wedding unrelated to our church, or being willing to fight Tampa traffic to just be there, when she has an important message to deliver at a contentious Presbytery meeting 40 miles away.

I'm still wondering (and I really hope you're listening, seminary presidents) about classes/workshops/seminars for the spouses of those going into ministry. Preacher's wives, preacher's husbands, the preachers themselves - we're all in the same boat. I wouldn't mind standing up to tell you all a story or two.....

Love and blessings - DEREK

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Feminism, Female Clergy and the "Corporate Culture"

"We simply must move beyond the limitations of culturally sanctioned roles."
Recently, several people have contacted me about this blog with the following complaint - apparently I don't post often enough.

Well, first off, let me say, "Thanks!" Thanks for reading and thanks for wanting more. But I promised going in that this would be a just a once or twice a week venue, written specifically with the "Preacher's Husband" perspective in mind.

However, if you really are interested (thirsty for more), then hop on over to the "Derek Maul" blog at I post there almost daily, with a much broader - but still faith-based - view into my world.

Today I'd like to respond to an excellent "comment" by "Tim", left on my "Looking for a few good Clergy-Hubbies" post from a couple of weeks back. It's a long comment, but certainly worth reading in its entirety if you're interested. Essentially Tim - who describes himself as a "pew-sitter on his feminist theology high-horse" - makes a distinction between women in leadership who "Become hard, they look and act mannish" and women who embrace Paul's radical declaration that in we are all one in Christ, heirs according to the promise, and take the route of simply following Jesus.

Here is Paul's post from his blog to the Galatian Church, from Chapter Three: "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

Tim goes on to point out that not only women but men, too, are in serious need of liberation when it comes to playing gender roles that have nothing to do with Gospel. He said it's obvious that "The Preacher" and I both try hard to live beyond such restrictive generalizations.

Thanks, I appreciate the love....

Back in seminary (Rebekah earned her MDiv from Columbia in Decatur, Georgia, 1979-1982) there was a lot of pressure for women to deny their femininity and try to "make do" by imitating men (as if being a man was by definition more appropriate for ministry than being a woman?).

Rebekah refused to play ball, and was consequently criticized both by the professors and by the women "ahead" of her.

Many women looking to enter ministry in those days did cut their hair short, wear clothes tailored for men, sport a clerical collar, work to lower their voices, disguise female physical attributes, and generally adopt back-slapping, good-old-boy, hard-edged mannerisms. There was also a lot of anger, antagonism and resentment toward men, along with political protest and undisguised bitterness.

My wife maintained a distance from the female caucus because she insisted that God called her to ministry as a woman, no apology necessary for not being a man thank you very much. She was respectful of her female colleagues, but felt that her path lay in simply serving God, not making a political point.

Rebekah is more gracious than I am when it comes to this area. She still says that the women who preceded her had to fight for every inch of ground they gained, that they faced much more pointed discrimination, and that it was important that those of us in "the second wave" acknowledge their sacrifice. She didn't join them in their more political feminism, but she wouldn't criticize them either.

More problematic for me were (and still are) the men who believe/d that leadership in the church should be approached using the playbook of corporate America. This not only buys into the "Old Boys Network"power and control paradigm, but effectively shelves Christ's model of servant leadership.

We simply must move beyond the limitations of culturally sanctioned roles. The Christian church should always be the place where life looks more like the kingdom of God than it resembles the ambient culture.

Pastors - men and women both - who buy in to the dynamics of corporate America seriously compromise the kind of leadership they have been called into, and seriously compromise the witness of The Church to the liberating truth that following Jesus is a calling into a New and Living Way.

Thanks, reader Tim, for a good jumping off place for this discussion. I'm interested in hearing from more of you. It needs to be an ongoing conversation.

Grace and Peace - DEREK