The Call Project


In Sunday’s sermon, I announced what I’m calling “The Call Project,” in which I’m asking each of you to write down and submit a brief version of your “call story.”

What’s a call story?

I explained in my sermon that a call story is a personal story about when and how God called you to fulfill your own particular shape of ministry, whatever that might be. (This is different from what people used to call their “conversion story,” which narrates how and when someone became a Christian in the first place.)

I believe that every Christian has received a unique and personal directive, or “call,” from God which should determine and shape one’s life choices. For a few of us, God’s call is to full-time, specialized ministry within the church, which we call ordination. But for most of us, the call is to embody the love of Christ in our vocations, whatever they might be, and to embrace our spiritual gifts. 

While I believe that every person has been called to some kind of ministry by God, I also believe that not every Christian has actually responded to the call. That means not everyone has a call story … at least not yet.

That’s partly the role of a pastor — to help lead people into hearing and accepting the call of God on their lives. I know I’m doing my job well only when I see you responding to God’s call to mission, service, or compassion. 

That’s why “The Call Project” is important to me, especially at this moment in time. Before I leave, I would like to know from each of you how you are responding to God. I would love to celebrate your call story with you, as well as to pass the story on to the next pastor, Eric Folkerth. 

In my sermon, I argued that every call story has the same basic three-part structure. That story usually goes like this: first, you are making your way through normal, everyday life when, second, a crisis occurs. This disruption or interruption leads to a sudden recognition of your call from God. If you accept the call, then the third stage takes place, in which you begin to live into a new reality, open to God’s guidance.

When you are ready to write your story, try using the following sentence prompts: “I was ____________ (part one: status quo) when ________________ (part two: crisis/disruption), and I realized that God was calling me to ___________________ (your call), and I responded by ________________ (part three: new reality).”

Using that structure, here is how my story of how I was called into the ministry: “I was studying filmmaking in college when, one night as I was praying before bed, I clearly heard God call me to be a preacher, and after I had graduated with my film degree, I responded by enrolling in Perkins School of Theology and beginning the path toward ordination in the United Methodist Church.”

Using the same structure for Saul in the New Testament, here is his story: “I was going to Damascus to arrest Christians when I was blinded by a bright light on the road and heard a voice from heaven which told me that I was to be an ambassador for Christ, and after being healed of my blindness by the kindness of Ananias, I responded by becoming an apostle to the Gentiles.”

See? Your story doesn’t have to be long and complicated, but short and to the point. You’re welcome to use the prompts I’ve given above, or to write something free style.

Please take a few minutes to write out your call story and send to me at It will bring joy to my heart, and I’ll make sure Eric sees it. Even more important, you’ll see it written down for yourself, a reminder of the divine purpose for your own life.

Oh, one more thing — if you haven’t yet, please take the time to upload a picture of yourself to the church directory on Breeze. If you don’t think you can manage it yourself, we’ll have volunteers take pictures of you after worship over the coming weeks and help you do it! This will also be extremely useful for Eric to get to know all of you.

Preparing for South Africa

I am aware that my announcement on Sunday came as a big surprise to y’all. I was not planning on leaving Kessler Park UMC anytime soon; Leah and I were perfectly happy as members of the church family.

Graduates of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary celebrate in the school courtyard.

Graduates of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary celebrate in the school courtyard.

What happened was a shock to us as well. I received an email on January 9th from the General Board of Global Ministries saying they had identified a “potential missionary appointment that may be a match for your skills.” When I spoke to a staff person a few days later, they told me about the position at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary.

Primarily, I will be a Lecturer in Theology with some additional responsibilities, including mentoring students who are struggling academically and providing guidance in the Distance Learning Program.

I still have lots of questions about this job; I hope to get some answers soon, including and especially, what kind of housing will be provided for me and Leah.

This is a three-year appointment, at the end of which Leah and I will be expected to travel around the US for three months, reporting back to partner churches and trying to create new partner relationships.

I also need to let you know that I am required to attend Missionary Orientation in Atlanta for three weeks, beginning April 24. I will be back on May 9 to attend Chloe’s graduation and lead worship on May 12, then return to Atlanta through May 15.

At this point, it looks as if my last Sunday at KPUMC will be June 30th. We don’t have our tickets to South Africa yet, so I don’t know exactly when we’ll be leaving the country, but I promise you this: Leah and I plan to savor every moment we have with each and every one of you until that time.

A Note from SPRC

The Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) met with the District Superintendent, Debra Hobbs Mason, this past Monday, March 25th to begin the conversation regarding Kessler Park's next pastor. SPRC shared information with her about our congregation and surrounding neighborhood; our priorities and preferences for inclusivity, service/outreach, and worship style; and characteristics that we would like to see in the pastor who will shepherd KPUMC through its next season. Our feedback was informed by our and our families' personal experiences at KPUMC as well as feedback provided by several staff members and members of the congregation. SPRC welcomes additional reflection from staff and the congregation, so please don't hesitate to connect with a member of SPRC or chair Ashley Flores ( to share your insight.

Debra's next step will be to discuss what she learned during the SPRC meeting with the Bishop and Cabinet so that they might collectively consider who might be a good fit for KPUMC. She expects to have an update by mid-April, and SPRC will continue to keep you informed as things progress.

When We Butt Heads in the Pews


My central thesis in preaching and teaching on Matthew is that one of the author’s major concerns in writing the gospel was teaching his readers how the community of faith was supposed to live together.

Being part of the faith community is a non-negotiable for Jesus. As I have said in the pulpit recently, there are no Lone Ranger Christians. You can’t follow Jesus all by yourself; the path of discipleship wasn’t designed to be a solitary road.

Sometimes we wish we could walk it by ourselves, because it’s not always easy to be part of a community. We might discover we are called to follow Jesus alongside people whom we may not particularly like. Or we may protest we are too “different.” Or we might say, “I’m not comfortable around people like that.” We might not like the way another member of the community prays or sings; we may disagree with their politics, or find their wardrobe distasteful.

But that’s all beside the point in the faith community, or “church,” if you like. When God calls us to follow , there is always a group of disciples ready to accompany us on our journey of faith. And these disciples are just as flawed and imperfect as you and I are. We learn on the road together. That’s the beauty and the struggle of church.

Fortunately, the Gospel of Matthew also gives us some great advice on how to navigate the conflict which will ultimately confront any church. In the eighteenth chapter, Jesus gives us a three-step process and one guiding principle by which disciples are supposed to handle conflict.

The three-step process goes like this:

1) “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister.” (Matthew 18:15)

This step is the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard, and as a pastor, it is the primary way I advise all staff and laypeople to act towards each other: if someone has wronged you, then you are supposed to go to that person directly and speak to them about it. Not to a third party, nor to Facebook, nor to anyone else.

This is also the least-followed piece of advice I have ever given. It’s difficult to confront people with whom you are in conflict. I know that because it’s hard for me, too. However, it’s the best way to address conflict, and it prevents things from circulating on the rumor mill or gossip circuit. Most conflict in the church would immediately cease if this practice were followed as a general rule by everyone.

However, Jesus recognized that this tactic wouldn’t always work …

2) “But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:16)

If the situation escalates, Jesus recommends that you take one or two friends with you to confront the person with whom you feud. The presence of others keeps everyone honest, and can de-escalate tension.

But if that doesn’t work …

3) “But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17)

This step sounds extreme; in fact, it sounds as if it can be used as justification for kicking someone out of a church. But is that a bad thing?

Let me suggest some moderating thoughts about this passage:

First, I believe that this is an extreme step to be taken only when and if someone’s behavior is harming someone else. We can all think of situations in which a church member’s actions could be so destructive that we would have to take drastic measures to keep them from hurting people in the congregation.

However, this process ensures that there would be no arbitrary and punitive measure taken against anyone. If there is a problem, the offender is confronted privately first; if he or she doesn’t respond to mend the problem, only then is the matter widened to a larger group of people.

And third, scholars have argued that treating people like Gentiles and tax collectors isn’t as bad as it sounds. After all, we know how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors — he ate and drank with them! He treated them as people worthy of his time and attention!

Finally, there is one overriding general principle that Jesus preaches about community life — forgiveness. Just after teaching this process of conflict resolution, Peter asked Jesus, “But what if the same person keeps sinning against me? How many times do I have to put up with it? How many times do I have to forgive — as many as seven times?”

We all know how Jesus answered: “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Forgiveness is the heart of church life. This is the only thing that will hold us together in the end. For we will offend each other, we will sin against each other, and we will say harmful things and do hurtful things. That's just the way humans do each other.

But as the redeemed disciples of Jesus, we have a remedy for reconciliation — the ability to say, “I forgive you.”

Let’s learn to say that a little more frequently.