A Letter to the North Branch

Dear Friends,

When I was in high school, I had the chance to serve on two different search committees. The first was for a new superintendent of schools and the second was for a new high school principal. I enjoyed both of these experiences and learned a great deal through them. In both cases, we had the chance to interview candidates who were from outside the district as well as candidates who were serving within the district and therefore already familiar to us. In both cases there was a theme: those from outside the district were in many ways more exciting, shiny, and new! Those within the district, well, we already knew them. We already knew their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.

 

Some of you, no doubt, when you heard the news I had been called to serve as the next Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery and the North Branch Minister, might have had a reaction like this: “Who, him? Oh gee whiz, we already know him! We wanted someone shiny, exciting, and new but instead we get Brian?” I have worked with many of you and gotten to know you over my ten years serving in the presbytery. You know well my strengths, weaknesses, and yes, my many quirks. While I am not shiny, exciting, and new, I am very excited and privileged to be serving as the new Branch Minister for the North. I’ve heard it said a couple times that each of our four branches is unique and has its own unique culture. After hearing descriptions of those cultures, there is no doubt I fit best within the North Branch and am looking forward to serving with all of you in this new role.

 

After ten years in pastoral ministry, a large majority of which was focused on youth ministry, many have asked me, “Why on earth would you go into administration???” The first answer is the safe one, “I feel God called me to this work.” But the personal answer is I see the role of the Branch Minister as unique with opportunities to impact the local church. I believe, first and foremost, that the mission of the Jesus Christ is best carried out by local congregations engaging their local communities. Middle governing bodies do their best work when they focus on equipping, catalyzing, and networking congregations to fulfill the mission to which God has called them. That part of the work, equipping, catalyzing and networking, is what most excites me about this new role. Whether it be congregations in transition, supporting all of you as you seek to be the leaders God has called you to be, or brainstorming new ideas for how together we can impact our communities for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These are the things I am most looking forward to and why I am excited. 
I have set a goal to make contact with each congregation within the North Branch, either through a meeting with the pastor and/or visiting the congregation on a Sunday, within the first year (so by July of 2017). At the onset, this goal seems more than doable but I have been warned that the “tyranny of the urgent” can sometimes consume our best intentions as presbytery staff. So while I will strive for this goal, I admit I may not make it. I have had the pleasure of filling the pulpit for a number of the churches in our branch (five so far). What I have especially enjoyed about these opportunities has been the chance, not only get to know the pastor, but also to get to know the people and participate in the worship life of the congregation. So if you are in need of a Sunday off, please keep me in mind as a guest preacher.
In addition to my role as branch minister, I will be assuming responsibility for being the staff liaison for the Commission on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). Since the departure of Doug Portz, Betty Angelini has ably filled this role and I have huge shoes to fill in this area but I am truly thrilled this will be part of my job. While the work of caring and determining suitability for ministry may be challenging at points, I am excited to have a role in this essential and life-giving part of the mission and ministry of our presbytery. I also will have responsibility in this next season of working on our response to the General Assembly’s approval of our overture regarding the plight of the African American male: Freedom Rising. This initiative (which is in its infancy at this point) has the potential to unite our congregations in ministry as we discern how God is calling us to respond to the issues facing our population. Finally, and this is still to be defined, I will have some responsibility for supporting those in Youth Ministry throughout our presbytery. As someone who has a deep commitment to making sure our churches give their very best to our middle school and high school students, I am looking forward to supporting and resourcing our youth ministry leaders as they seek to provide spiritual nurture and personal support to the next generation. 
Last, but not least, let me explain one shift in how we are doing branch work. One of the things that has become evident over these past few years as we’ve utilized the Branch model is that the workload isn’t always balanced. There have been times which one branch has had a high number of churches in transition while at the same time another Branch has no churches in transition. For that reason, the four branch ministers will be serving in pairs to share responsibilities for the different branches. In my case, I will serve as the primary branch minister for the North and secondary branch minister for the East. The Rev. Dr. Beverly James will serve as primary for the East and secondary for the North. 
The North Branch steering team has planned a lunch event for Monday, October 10, from 12:00 -2:00 PM. Our hope for this event is to first and foremost give us a chance to connect and share fellowship with one another. In addition, we want to take time to listen to feedback regarding the ministry of the branch and listen to ideas about ways to proceed as we move into the future. I hope you can join us for lunch at Elfinwild Presbyterian Church.
In Christ, 

Brian

Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery  

 

Filling the Gap

Also available on Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Website

Browse through your local Home Depot or Lowe’s and you will find an amazing product called “gap filler.” Gap filler is home improvement genius in a whipped cream like substance. When you’ve got a gap you need to fill, you simply spray gap filler into the gap and it hardens up, creating a seal. And whoever thought of this product was a genius because the bottom line about a gap is this: if you’ve got a gap, something is going to fill it. So if you don’t do something about a gap, someone (or something) else will.

I’ve been a dad now for almost ten years and I’m beginning to notice that my 9-year-old is just starting to enter into the life stage of pre-adolescence. Having worked with kids for the past decade plus, I’ve grown to recognize this life stage that usually runs from 3rd through 5th grade or so. While not nearly as dramatic or traumatic as adolescence, pre-adolescence is the life stage where people, other than my wife and I, begin to matter more than they did even a year or two ago. Friends, teachers, and other adults are more important in his life right now. While my wife and I still have the vast majority of influence in his life, it’s not quite as much as it used to be.

In short, there’s a gap opening in my son’s life. And something is going to fill it. The only question is what.

This gap I speak of I like to call “the influence gap.” When a child is very young, the gap is very small and usually filled by siblings, childcare providers, and close family and friends. As a child grows, this gap widens and, as it widens, naturally there is more space to be filled. And remember the cardinal rule of gaps: something will fill any gap. As I said earlier, I’m starting to see this with my son – his influence gap is widening and he’s filling it in with other people. But I also know in a few years, that gap will expand rapidly as he enters into adolescence.

Four points that I want to be crystal clear on:

  • Every kid, no matter their background or family situation, has an influence gap that will change over time.
  • The influence gap is a normal, necessary, and healthy part of the developmental process. If your looking for breast augmentation and other services visit our website Matthew Galumbeck, MD.
  • Parents remain the dominant influence in their child’s life as long as they live with them on a permanent basis (as an example, until a child goes to college or moves out into their own apartment).
  • No parent, even the best one, should try and prevent the influence gap from developing in their child’s life (unless they want them living in their basement when they’re 35).

From a developmental standpoint, adolescents are looking to answer three core questions:

  • Who am I (a question of identity)
  • Whose am I (a question of belonging)
  • What am I good at (a question of ability or competency)

Not surprisingly, adolescents will fill their influence gaps with sources that address some or all of those questions. For example, if a child is involved in sports, they will fill part of their influence gap with their coaches, teammates, and other adults connected with that program. Why? Because participating in team sports helps to address all three core questions. What am I good at (soccer), whose am I (I belong to the soccer team), and who am I (I am a soccer player). For example, I took part in 18 seasons of track and field and cross country between middle school and high school, and it wasn’t because I was an especially good runner. It was because my participation in sports helped define and validate who and whose I was.

Given all of this, it is crucial parents and churches need to think seriously about how to leverage the influence gap for the mutual benefit of the child, the family, and the church’s mission in the world.  I firmly believe the influence gap is a God-given gift to parents and churches allowing them to further the healthy development of children and youth in ways that strengthens the mission and ministry of the church. But leveraging this gap doesn’t happen without intentional effort on behalf of parents and church leaders.

Often in developing ministry opportunities for children and youth, the first question is “What kind of program should we have?” That’s not a bad question, but it’s the wrong question with which to start. The best question to start with is this one: What can we, as a church, do for our kids that responds to the three core questions of adolescence? How can we help them understand who they are (a child created in the image of God), whose they are (a member of the covenant community), and what they are good at (the gifts God has given them for mission and ministry)? Regardless of the child, their situation in life, or the church they’re connected to (no matter how loosely), there’s an influence gap in that child’s life that will be filled by something. The question isn’t if – but by whom – will the gap be filled?

A few years back when my wife and I were in ministry together we got to know Josh. Josh, like any 8th grader, had an influence gap in his life and some of the influences that had moved in needed to be replaced. My wife suggested we ask Josh to help that summer with our day camp, the staying at the Residence Inn Delray Beach and vacation bible school program, we have gather everything we need in a PNW waterproof backpack, we are almost ready. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea – after all, Josh wasn’t a total straight and narrow kid. But my wife firmly believed in Josh and invited him to help with preschool at VBS that year. By the end of day two, Josh had become a legend. Adults were coming up to her and telling her how amazing Josh was at working with preschoolers. I followed her lead and let Josh help with our day camp program. Within two years, Josh was given responsibility for our youngest group of campers (an assignment normally reserved for seasoned college students with a lot of counseling experience) because he had demonstrated the gifts and passion for ministry with children. Today, Josh has just returned from a summer abroad teaching English as part of a Christian mission and is preparing for a future of long-term mission service. And why? He’s doing all that because someone, almost a decade ago, decided to leverage his influence gap in an intentional way.

May we, the churches called to mission in the name of Jesus Christ, recognize the gift of the influence gap, and leverage it for God’s glory and the furtherance of his mission in the world.

“Adventures in Missing the Point” (Sermon Audio)

“Adventures in Missing the Point”

August 21st, 2016

Northmont United Presbyterian Church

Psalm 103:1-8, Luke 13:10-17

Audio Only

“A coffee mug?? You got them a coffee mug??”

Also posted here

A Letter from the Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

A Coffe Mug? You Gave Them a Coffee Mug???
August 4, 2016

I’m terrible with gifts.  No seriously, absolutely terrible (ask anyone in my family). So it will surprise no one that my final thank you gift to my team of volunteers at Hampton was a coffee mug. That’s right, ten years of service and the best thing I could come up with as my final thank you to a group of people who had been my partners in ministry was a coffee mug.

But, this coffee mug was different. This coffee mug was special because of the question that was printed on it. A simple, profound, and honestly challenging question: What would happen if you treated every child like they were made in the image of God?

In my experience, some kids in our churches are easy to love. They’re the kids who show up for everything, whose parents are involved and supportive, and best of all, they’re well behaved.  And then there’s the kids who, at points, are hard to love but are often the most fun and entertaining as well, so it all balances out. But then there’s another group of kids, who go past challenging and firmly establish themselves in the “difficult to love” category. These are the kids who, if we’re honest, we sometimes wish weren’t involved with our church.  They’re the ones who, when their name shows up on a list, everyone rolls their eyes. They’re the ones who, again if we’re honest, no one wants to make time for.

I wish I could say I’ve never written a kid off. But I have. I’m not proud of it, but I have. It’s easy to do actually, in some ways it frees me from the guilt and responsibility I feel.  I can even justify it to myself – why spend so much time on a kid who simply is trouble when I could invest that time into the life of a “good kid.” And yet I catch myself and over and over, and the question comes back to me: how many times are kids like that precisely because so many adults in their lives have wronged them and/or written them off? Maybe, just maybe, if more adults treated that kid they like they were made in the Image of God, they might change. They might find new opportunities and healthier ways of dealing with what life as thrown at them. They might, just surprise us—after all, there’s a precedent for that, isn’t there?

Scripture is full of examples of God calling people. Sometimes he called people you’d expect him to call.  But often God called the losers, burnouts, and leftovers of the world. The people others have disregarded and decided weren’t worth it. The people who were “trouble.” The truth is often the people (kids and adults) who most need our love and need to be reminded that they are loved by the God who created them, are those who bug us the most. May we find the patience, whether it’s a troublesome elder, hurting kid, or pain-soaked soul, to treat every person we meet like they are made in the image of God.
The Rev. Brian R. Wallace, Associate Minister

Good Article from the New York Times Regarding Porn…

From the New York Times: It’s O.K. Liberal Parents, You Can Freak Out About Porn

Having personally come through the late 90’s and early 2000’s it’s safe to say that some within the Christian tradition might have gotten a thing or two wrong or at the very least missed the point about when it came to the emerging landscape of dating and sexuality(I Kissed Dating Goodbye for example).  But, one of the things I heard about in Christian circles long before I heard about it anywhere else was the dangerous effects of internet pornography on our teens.  So to give credit where credit is due, those who sounded the alarm years ago, when broadband internet was becoming more and more common now find the same concern being raised by the New York Times.

Of all the blog articles I’ve written, my post on internet safety is far and away the most popular one.  In that post I wrote the following:

Kids who want to watch porn will – I know that’s awful, but kids are smart and technology is everywhere, so they’ll find a way.  Whether it’s a friend’s house or some other device, they’ll find a way.”

The “inevitable” logic is sometimes used a way to take a hands-off let it go approach.  But when it comes to pornography there is too much at stake.  To quote again from my internet safety post:

Also, we need to have an honest conversation with our kids about pornography.  We’ve got all the documented evidence we need that pornography is bad and we need to share that with them.  As parents we don’t want kids doing things that are bad for their health. Check out this excellent guide at neuropathyreliefguide.com for more information. In essence, we need to talk about pornography in the same way we talk about cigarettes and high sugar foods

Things Don’t Change Much Do They? (Sermon Audio)

Things Don’t Change Much, Do They?

July 24th, 2016

First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum

Luke 11:1-13, Psalm 42

Audio Only