Back to School

This summer, the month of June to be exact, I embarked on a new and very rewarding adventure.  I went back to school!!! I started on my Doctor of Ministry with a concentration in Pastor as Spiritual Leader at San Francisco Theological Seminary.  It was the absolutely most fantastic three weeks I have had in a long time.

I took two classes and a seminar to start off my journey.  The first class I took was “Pastor as Person” where we focused on the themes of our callings, spiritual leadership, spiritual disciplines, and awareness of ourselves in our own unique ministry settings.  We had seven in our class and while it is normally a two week coarse meeting in the mornings, we did it in one week meeting morning and afternoon every day.  It was intense, but we had such a great group.  Our instructor, Dr. Charlene Jin Lee was fantastic.  She really is intuative and utilized a variety of exercises to keep us engaged.  We had three main books for this class and wrote one to two papers a day. It was an excellent class to start off with.

The next two weeks I took “Prayer and Discernment in Pastoral Ministry” from Dr. Luther Smith.  The major focus was looking at prayer and discernment in the pracitce of ministry and leadership.  This was also one of my four required classes for my concentration.  You take six classes total with two being electives.  Luther was amazing as well and while this was a larger class, 14 of us, we broke into two groups when we would go over our reflection assignments.  We had six major books we used for this class with a reflection paper almost every night and a final paper due August 1 of 12-15 pages.  I am working on that now.  I took a few days off to let my brain relax and also work on sermon work for church.

I took the “Dissertation/Project Orientation Seminar” over the last two weeks as well.  While I am not at the point yet to start writing my dissertation, this seminar will help shape how I ask questions and take notes over the rest of my coarse work, to help once I start writing.  I did start working on my problem statement, and this will help as I get closer to actually presenting my proposal.  There are 12 books that I need to order and read for this seminar over this next year.  The great thing about this seminar is that you can take it as many times as you need as you prepare to start writing your dissertation.

Overall I am very enthused about what lies ahead for me over the next four years.  The main group that will benefit from my work will be the church I serve, Delta Community Presbyterian Church and especially the leadership of the church.  But I will also benefit as I learn new ways of doing ministry, gain new friendships, as well as deepening my own skills in writing, speaking, and research.  Once I finish the paper due August 1, I will be preparing for my next series of classes that will happen in January 2017.  It will be two more classes in the required category, getting me back on track for the program.  Many of us began in June as opposed to those that started in January, so to get us all together, this is what has been recommended for me.

I am so thankful for all the prayers that my family, church family, and friends have been lifting for me.  It has been 22 years since I was last a student, and I started out a little rusty, but things feel much smoother now.  I will keep everyone posted on my progress and what my dissertation topic will be.  Blessings to you all!!

God’s Shepherding Hand

So I finished sermon number four in the series God’s Shepherding Hand yesterday, and just completed my Saturday night review of the message for tomorrow.  It has been a really good series in the Psalms.  I started with Psalm 23 which was really good because it helped me to focus on what really connects these particular psalms together.  I followed the readings from the lectionary, so I started with Psalm 23, followed by Psalm 148, Psalm 67, and the one I just finished in Psalm 97.

I picked up on the theme in each of the psalms of God’s shepherding hand, and it is really not something that we spend a lot of time thinking about.  I looked at making the shepherd deeply personal, stressing that we think of him as my shepherd throughout this series.  What is it about my shepherd that means so much to us?  Could it be that we really do need or crave to have someone keeping an eye on us?  Do we forget that God really does take care of us our entire lives?  And then what is required or expected of us as we start claiming God as my shepherd?  It is really a concept I don’t remember hearing any of my professors talk about in seminary.  And over my 20+ years of ministry I have not really thought about it much until now.  Is it the events that have been going on in our church over the last year or so?  Is it maybe what has been going on in my personal life?  Only God really knows the answer to this question, but it is a good one to ask.  I am really glad that we have been looking at this question as well as others over the past four weeks.

Each week I start working on my message on Monday, and after reading through about 4 or 5 translations (usually KJV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, and NASB), I sit down and write my academic outline.  Then I work on the bulletin outline I call the applicational outline.  When I am done with that I complete a discipleship study based on the Scripture for the study.  After reading Sticky Church by Larry Osborn I really like this way of preparing for Sunday.  So my applicational  thoughts were My Shepherd for Psalm 23 looking at how my shepherd provides, my shepherd protects, and my shepherd pursues.  With Psalm 148 we looked at praising my shepherd looking at the heavens lift their praise, the earth lifts praise, and humanity praises the shepherd.  Last week Psalm 67 looked at my shepherd’s blessings and the shepherds ways are known, the shepherds ways are just, and the shepherds ways bring blessing.  This week, with Psalm 97 we are looking at my shepherds glorious reign seeing how his glorious reign is revealed, how his glorious reign is rejoiced, and how his glorious reign is upheld. As I shared earlier, this series has really opened up my own thoughts about the Book of Psalms and why we as Christians should be studying it more in-depth.

So what will this mean for us as we move forward with our Christian walks?  It really goes well with what our theme was for 2015 here at DCPC, which was Come Grow With Us-Growing the Family of God which was stressing personal spiritual growth and discipleship.  With this series we dug deep.  We concentrated on the anchor of everything we are as Christians, and that is God, my shepherd, being our foundation.  No wavering, no losing focus, but being locked in on the anchor Jesus Christ.  Without that we can’t have the security we need, the security we crave, that eternal security that only Jesus Christ can offer.  If you would like to read the complete sermon series, please email me at


A Cultivated Life-A Review

I have just finished an excellent book and wanted to share it with you all.  The book is The Cultivated Life-From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy by Susan S. Phillips.  I received the book as a gift in October, but picked it up to read late in March.  I posted about it a few times on my Instagram @revdougs.  Dr. Phillips is executive director and professor of sociology and Christianity at New College Berkeley and will be one of the faculty at San Francisco Theological Seminary for my Pastor as Spiritual Leader Doctor of Ministry.  I am very excited about having her in class after reading this book. It has been a long time since I have written a book review, but I really want you to read this book, so I am going to highlight some of the reasons why.

This book serves as an introduction to Christian spirituality, and if you have never read a book on this topic before, this is an excellent one to start with.  Eugene H. Peterson, who wrote the foreward, had me hooked even before I had read of word of Dr. Phillips.  On page 10 he writes: This is a book written specifically for those of us who are assigned the task of developing an imagination for living the Christian faith with insight and skill in and for a society that is disconnected from the biblical revelation and the Jesus incarnation.  This was exactly what I was searching for to help me make sense of a world that has drastically changed over the course of my 20 plus years of ministry.  Now that I was engaged, what would I learn from this author?

In the Introduction there is a question presented, found on page 15, that starts moving me toward the answer I am seeking. How can we participate in the cultivation of our souls in a ceaselessly striving, circus-like culture that pushes us to be performers and spectators? It is with this question that I am drawn into Dr. Phillips premise that draws upon biblical imagery of cultivation and the narratives that animate it. In twelve chapters Dr. Phillips takes us on a journey using this concept of cultivation.  She defines it on page 35 this way:

The cultivated life is one of persevering in our longing.  In the garden and on the trail, grace collaborates with dedication.  Our completion comes toward us as we move toward it, and this is all part of what Paul calls the “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Throughout these chapters, which at the end of each one there are at least two or three questions to help us dig deeper, we learn the basics of Christian spirituality.  We learn more about truly listening to others, as well as keeping our own Sabbath times.  In chapter nine she explains what spiritual direction is and why it is important for us as Christians to find our own spiritual directors.  Again, I am not writing a complete review, I am only highlighting a few key parts for myself.  I encourage you to buy and read this book.

If for any other reason, the Appendix makes purchasing this book totally worth it.  It has Guidelines for Practices in these areas:  contemplative listening, Sabbath Living, Lectio Divina, Finding a Spiritual Director, and finally for Cultivating Friendship.  These guidelines are well written and presented in a way that helps them make sense and provide a path for us to follow as we grow deeper in our faith.