Ready for 2017 – Tips from 2016 Bike Rides

We have had a beautiful spring, inviting people young and old to get outside!

I, of course, had to get my bike out early and have already taken in some gorgeous days biking. After my #BikeMN52 goal last year, biking 52 different rides in MN, several people have asked for tips on finding places to bike. So today I’m sharing my top resources for finding bike routes…and a little commentary to go with each.

#1 – Traillink is a great resource to check out. You can search around the country, state, city, or by trail name. This site is helpful describing the details of the path (like where it starts and ends, the length, and the trail surface). Here is a link to the Metro area. It is run by a non-profit and the site has more than 300,000 miles of trails. (That’s enough to keep you busy all summer!) Some of my favorites are: Brown’s Creek Trail near Stillwater (it is attached to the Gateway Trail which is also awesome), The Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Cedar Lake Trail (with its beautiful view of Minneapolis and lush green space), Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail (starting in Hopkins and heading out toward Excelsior), the Samuel Morgan Trail along the St. Paul side of the Mississippi, and of course the Midway Greenway (and the Minneapolis Lakes). (I placed this app on my phone!)

#2 – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has a good list, and they note what types of recreation is available at each park. Trail length ranges from 4 miles (Goodhue Pioneer Trail in Zumbrota) to 100 (Paul Bunyan Trail between Brainerd area and Bemidji). If you want to make your ride more than an afternoon outing they have great ideas for adventures.

#3 – Bikeverywhere has a great physical map that I used, but they also have resources online. (For example, if you are interested in doing a century ride – 100 miles – there is route around Forest Lake.)

#4 – Know the trail you want? You can also check if they have their own site. Like the Cannon Valley Trail, the Mesabi Trail, Root River Trail, and Central Lakes Trail. Often these sites have more detail, for example if you are looking for housing nearby or places to stop for lunch.

#5 – The StarTribune ran an article last summer and has a nice map for metro AND state trails.

And “just in case” I always used my Google maps app on my phone. Just turn on the biking option and it will highlight bike routes and paths. This app helped me do get lost many times!

Also – one more resource – I highlighted some of my favorite rides at the end of the summer in this blog. Check it out. 

If you are interested in following my rides, I’m posting again under #BikeMn53 on FaceBook and Instagram.

So, here’s to biking another season!

What Target can Teach Religious Leaders

Like many Minnesotans, I am a regular Target customer. There are several that I visit on a regular basis – one near my house, another near work, and another “on my way home.” It use to be that I could visit a Target store in Apple Valley, MN or Fargo, ND or Anaheim, CA and easily find my way around because the layout of the store was basically the same. Sure they had different items (especially seasonal ones), but overall there was, what seemed to me, a universal pattern.

Recently that pattern has changed. For example, the Target by my work in St. Paul added a liquor store at one of the entrances. And the one “on my way home” had the home decorating items laid out in a display similar to someone’s living room. While I can still find the groceries and cosmetics, sporting goods and books, over the past several years I have begun to seen changes…most of them subtle, but some a bit more dramatic.

Last night I had to get groceries (and a few other things), so I went to my local Target and noticed more changes. In addition to the redesigned self-serve check-out lines there were several displays “between departments” that integrated various items from across the story and created “real life” scenarios. One scenario was all things “heading to the beach” and another was “what you need for your office.” It was interesting because they took things from different sections of the store and they put it together in a way that made sense to me. It was how I use their products at home. (A chair from the furniture section, with a pillow and rug from home decorating and a book from the book section with a Mother’s Day card sitting right next to it.) Not only that, but they put them at intersections or places that I would pass for various reasons. It was like they had mapped people’s travel patterns and were creating hubs throughout the store. While I noticed this new feature, I didn’t think much of it the rest of the night, as I had groceries to put away (along with the other items – planned and not planned – that I had purchased).

Having also been to worship this weekend, another place I visit regularly, I paused today to reflect more on my visit to Target. Maybe there are lessons religious leaders can learn from Target? And in fact, I think Target is embodying several of the principles Hayim Herring and I discovered in our research. Let me offer two thoughts:

  1. From departments toward “real life scenarios” – The universal pattern that I have come to appreciate at Target had all of the products separated into departments. If you want to be efficient, that’s a great plan, right? Well maybe. It is what I grew-up with and what I was use to, but sometimes the separation isn’t the most helpful. Take this example – Let’s say it’s summer and I’m having people over for a backyard BBQ and I forgot the marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for S’Mores. That’s a lot of running round to get three items. And some time, like before the 4th of July, I’ll find S’More stuff in a display together, but mostly these three items live aisles apart. You see departments cluster things with the idea that like will be with like. But often times, things don’t fall neatly in those categories and/or items that are often used together are separated. But Target is taking the “S’Mores display” a step further. What if items where both/and? What if putting things together, rather than separating them, was most useful? And what if, like the S’Mores display, these “integrated” displays changed on a regular basis? Like Target, congregations have believed departmentalizing was the best way to help people navigate ministry opportunities. But maybe those days are changing? Maybe what is most helpful for people wanting to engaging in ministry is “putting the pieces together” in a way that reflects their everyday life? Target didn’t throw out all their departments as they began this new approach, and congregations don’t have to either. What I learned from Target is that a shift is taking place, from segregation and efficiency toward integrated and “real life.” And for now, we live in a hybrid.
  2. Tending to flow and intersections – I personally don’t mind numbered aisles and orderly traffic patterns. In fact, I love being efficient. But what I noticed when Target created these new “real life display areas” is that they caught my attention. I slowed down, stopped and looked at several items. And not only did my pace change, my mood did as well – I didn’t feel like I was in a warehouse, but rather in a more “intimate setting.” Sure, this might seem like an exaggeration, but think about the difference between going to a large chain store and a small boutique. What if you could create a bit of both in one? Tending to traffic patterns, or the people’s patterns, congregations create create smaller meeting points that brought people together from various “departments.” If you could create such an intersection, what would you do in that space? What might invite people to slow down their pace and have conversation? What Hayim and I did discover is that intersections, hubs, help not only information flow, but also are meaningful in cultivating relationships.

I’m not ready to say congregations should become Target. What I am suggesting is that there are lessons to be learned from a variety of places on how people can gather in meaningful ways. We as congregational leaders need to pay attention. It is time to rethink our patterns, because people’s patterns are being reshaped in all areas of their lives. And changing patterns is not about being novel, it is about realizing that the way congregations remain faithful is by engaging people in ministry. Therefore, stepping back and reflecting on what we are doing and while is so important.

Who knew. Paving a path.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

So this happened today, an article I co-authored appeared in an online Jewish publication.

Seriously. If you would have told my younger self that such a thing would happen, I would have thought you were crazy. Me? Cradle-Lutheran and seminary professor of leadership. What conditions would ever be right for such a thing to happen?

Well it did. Today. And the path from my childhood to this moment was not linear, and frankly the article was more about an opportune moment than a strategic plan, but today Rabbi Hayim Herring and I have an article published in the The New York Jewish Week. “Toward Paving A Path Between Religious And Cultural Wars” is a response to Peter Beinart’s “Breaking Faith” (an article that appeared in the April edition of The Atlantic) but it is also a testimony to the partnership we develop in writing Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World (our new book).


As our country seems to be separating into enclaves and seeing difference as division, Hayim and I were quietly talking with leaders of Jewish and Christian congregations and nonprofits who were discovering innovative and creative ways of cultivating communities of meaning and purpose. These communities operated with a posture open to difference and used practices that created dialogue and nurtured relationships. As we learned from each of them, we (as researchers, authors, and religious leaders) were doing the same ourselves – opening ourselves up to a particular other and discovering practices that created rich dialogue and nurtured a deep friendship. All while the national commentary, in the shadow of the presidential election, was highlighting divisions and trying to instill fear. There was a disconnect from our lived experience and the national rhetoric. There have been more times then I can count this past year when I have said, “There has to be another way.”

And then two weeks ago, as Hayim and I are both entering each other religious spheres and co-leading learning events, this article starts circulating around social media, and we decide to offer our voice.


Today I taught seminary students, current and future leaders of Christian communities, about how God calls us to open ourself to others – both known and unknown. This call from God is counter to what I have learned and been taught as a person who grew up in Western culture; a culture where individualism reigns and personal happiness has replaced visions of shalom and working for the common good. I believe these words, but I must admit, I am a novice in living them out.

Today I share with you, others known and unknown, my commitment to be part of the movement of paving a path to a new future. I will, in my spheres of influence, be a curious neighbor, open to hearing the stories of people I encounter, and working for justice and peace. And I am grateful for a conversation partner outside my usual circles who is also on such a path. And I invite you to consider ways you too can be part of this movement – a movement where difference does not have to lead to division and otherness does not have to be feared.

Love > …

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Old Lutheran is up to it again. This time they are reminding us, anyone who loosely considers themselves a church person, of the power of love. Love is greater than many things. It is certainly greater than hate, but it is also greater than status, than tradition, than money, and fear and jealousy (you get the point.). Old Lutheran has asked church leaders from around the country to write short reflections that draw us into discussion with one another on the power of love, and in particular God’s love. (You can search them with the hashtag #loveisgreater.)

I had the opportunity to write one on Love > Grief. Check it out. (Here are other short reflections  on Love > Hate – Go to the bottom of the page.) And my greater invitation is for  you to be part of a movement that spreads love, God’s love in the world. Read these reflections, talk about the power of love with your friends, get yourself a T-shirt and spread the word, or simply let love be your driving force today and in the days ahead. Remember #loveisgreater

Created in God’s Image


We often read passages that note humans are created in God’s image, and we might even find ourselves repeating these words, but how often do we really stop and ponder what an amazing reality and gift that is?

Art is one way my ordinary routine of daily living is disrupted. Art in its final form is amazing and an take my breath away. As an observer, not as an artist myself, I’m drawn to art that helps me see the world in new ways or exemplifies the beauty already present. Here I am taken in by the imagine of the artists vision.

But art in it’s becoming form has a different impact on me. Art “becoming” transforms materials of this world, materials I often see as ordinary, and makes them into something more than…more than what they were and more than what I could see. Observing the process of art becoming captures my spirit differently than art in it’s final form. This video is an example of art becoming. Watch it and see what you think.

Leading in a Connected World


I’m tired and jazzed as I wrap-up my week. Eleven of us, all leaders in God’s church close by and far away, wrestled with what it means to lead missionally for five whole days. We came together having read, written, blogged, posted, and wondered about it before we arrived. We entered the conversation having engaged in conversation with other church leaders, people in our congregation, and even people outside our faith communities. And with all of that “pre-work,” say nothing about our years of experience leading in ministry, you’d think we would be leaving with some concrete and well-defined understanding of missional leadership. But we did not.

Instead we left with…

– a renewed appreciation for God’s presence in the world, and in us (personally and as a group)

– an awareness that our similarities and differences are gifts we offer each other

– a curiosity for exploring the familiar and “strange”

– an assurance of the costly nature of leadership and

– a reminder of how connected we are, even as we live in different places.

It was not obvious who played the role of the teacher and who played the role of learner, because teaching and learning was shared and spilled out from our assigned room and scheduled times into parking lots, lunch tables, and evening conversations. It was truly a shared learning experience, gracious and generative, with each person in the room mining the gems they most needed and best suited for their context and leadership role.

In the weeks ahead, other communities will join into this learning, as student engage in their projects, and the learning will flow not only in and through their congregations but also back to the whole. Research will be done and papers will be written, but the real fruit will only be known, truly known, years from now. Thanks to my co-collaborator, Steve Thomason, for doing this organic dance with me. And thank you students for joining in the dance with us.

As I wrap-up my day, I will linger in the music from our closing worship and the stories we shared, grateful for a narrative counter to the one broadcast in society these days. My heart is filled with hope. God is up to something in this world. Thanks be to God.






I’ve been thinking a lot about “engagement” these days. The first reason is personal. Two days before Christmas, my daughter and her boyfriend got engaged. As you might imagine, it created a lot of buzz in our house; there were calls to aunts and uncles, Facetiming cousins, and face-to-face visits with grandparents. Today, several weeks later, conversations around being engaged continue, as does their discovery of what it means for them.

The second reason is professional. Having just co-authored a book with Hayim Herring on leading in this digital age, we discovered that engagement is a very important issue for congregations. As the ways of thinking about congregational membership (giving money and regularly attending worship) become increasingly out of sync with societal values, leaders are wrestling with new ways of thinking about what it means to be connected to and associated with faith communities. Pastor Greg Meyer of Jacob’s Well, MN said it well. He said, “Of all the things we are stewards of with our community, their attention is one of the biggest, and it is almost the hardest. It is almost easier to get people to give than to get their attention.”

Leaders shared with us that the ways they had “always been doing things,” like committee work, passive communication, and assuming loyalty accompanies membership, didn’t have enough holding power to keep people connected to the congregation’s mission. However, when they shifted their focus from membership to engagement as an organizing principle it not only changed key practices, but it had a ripple effect throughout the organization and changed the culture as a whole. What would it mean to have an engaging culture?

Let’s step back and think about the word engage. One understanding of being engaged is a promise or pledge of one person to another. But there are other understandings according to Merriam-Webster – they include to take part in something, give attention to something or to come together. (Merriam-Webster definition – Shifting toward engagement as an organizing principle is to become a community where people come together or take part in something that is meaningful to them; it is a community where passion or purpose hold the community, not membership status. The shift may seem subtle, but this slight change in focus made a big difference in these organizations.

Engagement is multi-faceted and is not easily measured. Yet engagement in the congregations and nonprofits we studied had themes. One was about how they creatively connected with people within their organization; another was the unique ways they were in relationship with people and organizations outside their organization. Amongst these themes were three sets of practices: valuing process over procedure, integrating and relying on collective intelligence, and telling stories. In the end, congregations and nonprofits developed an ethos of openness – where the mission was clear, the work meaningful, and the boundaries messy.

There is no formula for establishing such a culture, but there are communities doing it. And we can learn from their experience. After fussing with this work for ten years, Jacob’s Well is clear about who they are – not fixated on creating members or model Christians, Jacob’s Well is a church focused on helping people create meaning in their lives. They believe a Christian understanding of God, a community willing to wrestle with this understanding, and awareness of contemporary culture is the way to approach this work. Everything they do is filtered through this mission and identity.

We share more about engagement in our book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose. For more information, go to Amazon or Rowman and Littlefield. You can also check out Hayim’s latest blog on Innovation.



Snow days are disruptive. You can’t write them into your planner, and you can only get so far being prepared. Yesterday we had our first snowfall and life was disrupted. Several inches blanketed my driveway (meaning someone had to shovel) and the roads weren’t plowed (making me late for church). To say my day didn’t go as planned was an understatement. Being the first means there is more to come, and since I am a Minnesotan it will be fine, but yesterday I had to readjust. Hurrying, or working harder, doesn’t change anything on snow days, you simply have to adapt, reframe your expectations, and live in the moment. For those of us from places where snow and winter go together, we accept this reality and learn to lean into the season (maybe even finding ways to enjoy it).

Households can be disrupted. This week last year our household was. We were finally empty-nesters (and even the dog was living in DC with our daughter). We were happily figuring out a new pattern of living together and were just beginning to remodel the house when we received two phone calls (one from each daughter). Before we knew it our young adult children were moving home, with all of their possessions. With no kitchen or living room, dust all over, and a basement full of “extra stuff” four adults (and one dog) were faced with figuring out how to live into “a new normal.” As parents of young adults know these opportunities happen, and such disruptions are both challenging and gifts. Today I will say this disruption falls more on the side of gift, but it did take all of us being open to change and learning to live with new patterns.

Our world is being disrupted. In many ways, and on multiple fronts, society is experiencing disruption. We can no longer rely on our once predictable patterns. Frustrations, and even hurt, comes when situations play out differently than we thought. Spending habits, leadership decisions, healthcare, the way people learn, and even how we “rent movies” are all areas experiencing disruption. Living into these disruptions takes energy, often energy I don’t have, and challenges me to open myself to new ways of understanding. Navigating disruption is hard, because like snow days, it is hard to predict and the magnitude of the disruption matters. (One inch of snow is very different than 12 inches!) Unlike the disruptions in my household, I don’t always have the patience to endure the transition of the disruptions in society or have the will to do the hard work necessary to find a way forward.

For Christians, Christmas is disruptive. Jesus’ birth disrupted people 2,000 years ago and the message of God’s radical love for the world has been doing so every since. We as people of faith are invited into a new way of being in the world, one which frames our lives and our communities in ways differently.

As leaders of congregations and nonprofits, many of us see and have experienced the disruption in our time, yet knowing about disruption doesn’t always help us understand what it means for us. And with so many things on our to-do-list, it is easy to simply work harder. But such an appropriate does not getting us to where we, and our organizations, need to go. For the sake of the missions we are called to, it is time we slow down and open ourselves to adjusting our expectations.

In Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose, my co-author (Hayim Herring) and I name this disruptive moment organizations are experiencing as a paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts require, among other things, rethinking leadership and examining our frameworks for seeing the world. Like other disruption, we believe there is life on the other side, and it can be rich and abundant, but getting there means reflecting, reframing, and creating new patterns.

So today, and in the days ahead, I hope you will join us in learning about this disruptive paradigm shift and wondering about what it means for you and the organization you are called to lead.

The Power of the Christmas Tree


Yesterday we did it, we got our whole family in the house at the same time and decorated the Christmas tree. While this may not be special occasion to you, it was for us for two reasons. First, last year our house was “under construction” which meant, among other things, no Christmas tree and no Christmas decorations. Second, yesterday afternoon was the only time when all four of us could be present to do the honors in a two week period.

Tonight, soaking in the glow that only a Christmas tree offers, I’m taken by the power a Christmas tree has in our home.

As crazy as it sounds, with girls are in their twenties, picking out and decorating the Christmas tree is still an event you have to do together! Maybe it is just a habit that became a family tradition, maybe it is because the tree is the penultimate symbol of the season for two girls who love Christmas (don’t get theological on me yet), or maybe it is because in the midst of all the laughter and storytelling we are reminded of how we love being part of this crazy, mixed family. I’m not sure why, but I do know that trimming the Christmas tree has the power to draw us all together, if even only for an afternoon, to pause our busy lives and be together.

As I have given over my vision for decorating and let others exercise their creative imagination, I’m take by the reality that the decorations in the box are more than ornaments, ribbons, and tree toppers. Ornaments have special meaning and decorations bring back memories of earlier years. Hanging them on the tree recognizes their importance and the past, present, and future come alive in our living room. Values become visible, stories get retold, memories are made, and hopes direct our eyes to the days ahead. Trimming the Christmas tree with our decorations has the power to transform a Blue Spruce into an Elton storyboard.

As the days become shorter and the winter air colder, it amazes me how the power of a few strains of Target lights change the atmosphere in our home. Coming home from a busy day to the warmth of our house illuminated by this sign of Christmas invites me to slow down and sit for awhile. For those of us with hurried lives, being still is a gift we do not often afford ourselves, and somehow the tree has the power to get all of us to slow down. And this energy cannot be contained in the house. Shining through the picture window, the lights of the Christmas tree have the power to make a dent in the vast darkness outside as well. Even in my fifties, I have not lost my love for driving through neighborhoods where the lights of Christmas interrupt the night sky. In its own little way, our Christmas tree is a sign of hope in a dark world.

I have been working on an Advent practice this year – sitting quiet for a time each day. It is not much, I know, but it is enough to calm my soul and ground my life in a season when the world is pushing me in all directions. Tonight, with the light of the Christmas tree filling the room and the memory of yet another “Elton decorating party” fresh at hand, I am grateful for this simple, but powerful tradition.

In this season where we prepare for God’s coming to live among us, how might your traditions prepare you?