Over the next month, I’ll be reflecting on my journey with the Vine. If you’re looking for more context, check out my post: Rules of the Road.

“Well, that sucked,” I said, as I sat on the brick steps of our house one early October morning a couple of years ago.

(I just asked my wife, “Which event do you think I’m talking about?

She said, after a long pause, “Well, it could be a lot of them.”)

There was the time I led our first Bible study, proudly demonstrating the connection between the Psalms and the work of a famous post-Holocaust artist, while the two young men in our living room drank coffee and looked at me in benevolent confusion.

Except, that time I sat on my front steps, smiling like an idiot, because I had thought the whole event had gone pretty well.

There was the time we hosted a worship gathering at our house. The people taking communion had all discovered long strands of gunk in the grape juice, someone had hidden in a bedroom upstairs because he didn’t want to participate in worship, and everyone drove off as quickly as possible afterward, leaving my wife’s broken spinning wheel and a chaos of dirty dishes behind them.

I did say “Well, that sucked,” that time, except it was on our back bench while drinking a very large glass of scotch, as the strains of “I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Has Gone!” played with cheerful irony on my ipod’s speakers.

No, this was the time I was sitting down on the brick steps on a Saturday morning.

We were a year into our ministry. Everything was sunshine, pretty flowers, and amazing stories that made me feel proud to be such a damn good pastor and Christian.

We had the missional wet dream of a small group: two ex gang bangers, a guy recovering from mental illness, a recovering alcoholic, and a post-Christian millennial hipster twenty something, with an additional few church people in the mix. They had asked if we could study how they could better relate to their finances in light of their faith.

People asking if we could study how to use their money to the glory of God, (which, naturally, would include a tithe to our as-yet-unfunded-running-on-a-7000-dollar-a-year-primarily-for-coffee-budget)?

Of course, I said yes.

I created a four week curriculum with that group particularly in mind. It was participatory, concrete, used lots of media, and engaged every learning style.

I was very impressed with it.

Class was scheduled for 9:00 AM that Saturday morning.

I was prepared.

I had folders. I had a class outline so detailed that a brain-dead chimpanzee (and even most pastors) could teach it effectively. I brewed coffee. I even made muffins. Homemade muffins.

I sat on my brick front steps, 9:00 AM, basking in my excitement, ready to change some lives for Jesus.

9:05 rolled around.

I was not worried. I had a group for which on-time perpetually means 15-30 minutes late.



I began looking up and down the street.


Still no one.

I started pacing.


I started looking down the street, trying to force every passing car into my driveway by sheer force of will.


I started calling.

I left three voice-mails.

I finally got someone. “Hey, sorry, I’m too tired to go today, maybe I’ll come next week.”

You’re too tired to take my lovingly hand-baked class?

You’ll just come next week? The class is sequential. There’s homework. You can’t just come next week.


Another person: “Sorry, I was able to work today, needed the money, you know?”

I didn’t point out that, perhaps, in the long term, learning how to manage your money, (e.g. don’t spend it on an iphone when you’re in debt and you live in a shared apartment that smells like drugs and shit) might be a better long-term strategy.

I sat on the steps again.

The smell of muffins wafted tauntingly from inside.

“Well, that sucked,” I said, not for the last time.


  1. New favorite blog. By that I mean, I’ve had just about every feeling volunteering with Young Life as you described. Ministry has fostered my taste for fine brown liquors as well.

    • Thanks Chip! I found this whole experience to be a lot messier than I had bargained for, which was a great growing experience, but I really wish that someone had given me a narrative that started, “Well, that sucked”, alongside the “You just follow Jesus, and you’ll end up an amazing celebrity success story!” one. And yes, the fine brown liquors do make said failures a little more palatable.

  2. May I suggest posing a question at the end of your posts, it is an excellent way to solicit responses. It invites the reader to think more deeply about what you’ve written, gives the reader a hint as to what kind of engagement you’re looking for and makes readers feel their input is valuable to you.

    Perhaps the “build it and they will come” model is only effective in movies? Kind of like when you write a book and no one reads it. Chuck Wendig wrote about it the other day in a post titled, Dearest Writer: Nobody Owes You Shit.

    “Nobody owes you anything. They don’t owe you a review. Or a retweet. Or any consideration at all. They don’t owe you a blurb, or a blog post, or blog space. The bookstore doesn’t owe you shelf space. The library doesn’t owe you circulation. Nobody owes you attention, and they certainly don’t owe you a career. They don’t even owe it to be nice to you.

    But you can earn those things. Not just by writing a good book — though that damn well better be Step Fucking One. You earn it by doing better. You earn it by being nice, and humble, and recognizing that it’s not the world’s job to bend its knee to you, but your job to bend knee. You gain audience by being the sharpest, smartest, kindest version of yourself you can summon. You overcome the challenges implicit to a creative life and career not by raging against them or by being sour about them, but by acknowledging them and dealing with them either head-on or with your own clever solutions. You get these things by being honest and earnest and authentic”

    It seems to me that this where you are, meeting your disappointment head on by writing and working through deep reflection of your experience.

    • That is a good suggestion Lynne – I read that post as well and found it very helpful! All future discussion questions can be blamed on Lynne! 🙂 (Actually, just blame me.)

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