Time to Pray

by Dan Kuckuck, Pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran, Urbandale, IA & LEAD Consultant

It occurred to my wife and me a few months ago that we wanted to be more intentional about including some faith practices in our home life. Our daughter Olivia is about two and a half, and at the age when she’s noticing and establishing routine. She knows exactly when it’s time to talk about the weather (“Daddy, it’s rainy out!”) and time to feed our dog, Luna. But in her schedule, there is never a time to pray.

So, Minda and I decided that we’d start praying at dinnertime, just like we had when we were kids.

“Olivia, it’s time to pray before dinner!” Blank stare.

“Let’s hold hands to pray, honey.”

“No!” Minda and I both reach over to grab Olivia’s hands. She rips them away. Minda and I decide that she doesn’t have to hold our hands.

“Daddy and I are going to pray, Olivia, and you can pray along with us, okay?” Blank stare.

“God is great, God is good…”

“NO!” Olivia covers both her ears as we pray, sporting a pained, labored expression as we finish the prayer.


Well, I think we nailed it. Faith formed! Ha!

How do you try to establish prayer practices at home, or in your own life?

It’s not easy in the midst of all our daily demands to make time for prayer – especially if the time hasn’t been set aside beforehand. If I’m particularly busy, running from one thing to another, I feel just like Olivia—resistant to prayer. Prayer seems like another task, another activity, another obligation. And of course, sometimes I just forget.

Prayer is important to us, though, and we want to make it happen. The approach we’re taking with Olivia is the same approach I’m taking for myself, and one that you might take as well:

We’re setting a time to pray each day (dinnertime), we’re making our prayer simple, and we’re keeping it short.

We’re also reminding ourselves that this is Olivia’s first step in her life of prayer. We just want to establish the habit. We trust that God will continue to nurture the relationship as her life of prayer unfolds from here. At the beginning, though, we just hope she won’t say no. Sometimes, prayer is simply saying “Yes.”

How are you working to nurture your prayer life? I’m delighted to say that Olivia doesn’t cover her ears anymore, but she still doesn’t hold our hands. She just sits and watches. I think that’s a good start.

Alarming Faith

by Pastor David Hansen, Director for Innovation and Communication – LEAD
Originally published at

“How can I grow in faith?” 

This is one of the key questions that pastors often help people to answer.

How to grow deeper in relationship with God – how to have a faith that transforms our lives and makes a difference in the world.

Sometimes the answers are big: connecting with a church, developing a routine of worship attendance, finding a spiritual mentor to guide us.

Sometimes the answers are external: read this book, or use that journal, or participate in this program.

My experience has been that people feel overwhelmed by it all. The distance between where they are (what feels like not much faith) and where they want to be (life-changing faith) feels like it is insurmountable. The commitment, the time, the effort to get from point A to point B just seems like it can’t be reached.

But what if I could suggest an easy, attainable way to grow your faith – no matter where you are starting from?

Being Alarmed

The answer is in most of our purses and pockets – that handy connection to the world that most of us carry with us wherever we go.

Your phone.

You can use your phone to grow in faith, without any special apps, tools, or difficult processes.

Take out your phone, and set an alarm – sometime in the middle of the day. Set it to go off every day. And when that alarm goes off – whatever else you are doing – stop and pray.

Set another alarm – sometime toward the end of the day. Again, make sure it goes off every day. And when that alarm goes off, stop and think about what gave you joy – what you are grateful for that day.

It is as simple as that. Take time each and every day to pause and pray, and another moment each day to pause and give thanks. 

A couple important notes:

  • Don’t give up if you have to skip a day! Just start again tomorrow.
  • Not sure what to pray? Use the Lord’s Prayer, or borrow a prayer book from a church
  • Feel weird about it? Ask a friend, coworker, or family member to set an alarm for the same time, and you will always know that you aren’t alone

Is It Really That Easy?

The short answer? Yes!

Taking time each day to pray and to give thanks is a life-changing practice, and something as simple as an alarm to remind us to do those things can be the perfect encouragement to start this new habit.

So, go ahead. Pull out your phone and set an alarm.

Take a step toward a deeper faith.

Like trees planted by streams of water: the need for nature-based faith formation for children


by Rev. Rich Nelson

Thinking back on my own childhood, most of my favorite memories were times spent in nature – canoeing with my dad, climbing the mountains of Wyoming, hiking Grand Gulch, boating down the Missouri River, running away from rattlesnakes at a family reunion. Well maybe not that last one … but it is still memorable!

Perhaps you have similar memories? I wonder what it is about being in nature that makes such a lasting and positive impression on a child. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder” a few years ago and for many of us that rings true.There is something in our souls that longs to reconnect with the rest of creation. Many people say they feel closer to God in the great outdoors than in a church building. Rather than take that as a criticism of the church, maybe we ought to hear it as an affirmation of the soul-stirring power of nature. No wonder Jesus went to the wilderness when he wanted to pray and used nature as powerful images in his parables.

Aside from summer camps, which children often point to as the spiritual highlight of their year, I find that churches rarely incorporate time in nature into their faith formation programs. Following the model of public education, we put them inside classrooms to teach them about the disciples, rather than taking them out and helping them to be disciples themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, many churches have beautiful outdoor spaces just outside their doors. Those that don’t are likely to have parks and green space not far away.

A few years ago, we tried it out at the church I served as pastor. After failing to find a curriculum on the market that would enable us to host the kind of outdoor VBS we envisioned, we decided to create our own, cohosting with a neighboring church that adjoined our property. We came up with rotations based around reflection on the trees and fields on our campus. We put kids to work seeding wildflowers and milkweed for butterflies. We invited local families to teach them about the history of the land and the farmers and ranchers who had founded our church. And we pulled in resource people from the community who brought along skulls, a live owl, and even an airplane flyover that thrilled the kids. It was our most successful VBS ever. We did it again the next year with even greater success.

Later that year, I left congregational leadership to create the deeper resources for discipleship that I always wished existed but could never find. Creating a curriculum that enables congregations and individual families to incorporate faith formation and time in nature was high on my list. Later this year, that dream will be realized when I launch Francis and Friends as a resource for families in time for Christmas, for congregations in early 2016, and at the Spring Family Retreat at Lutherhill in LaGrange, TX. Francis and Friends draws on the loving, inclusive, theology and life of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. Best of all, it is designed to get children and their parents to head out into the world to make the same faith and nature connection that so enlivened the faith of those kids at my church and my own as a child.

For the entirety of human history, people have been intimately connected with the rhythms and fate of the rest of God’s creation. But in the last 150 years, we have become increasingly disconnected from nature, buffered from its ups and downs by the imported produce in our grocery stores and the insulated, air conditioned walls of our homes, schools, and workplaces. Though this brings with it a greater sense of security and comfort, I also wonder what is lost. What meaning is missing when the people who come to us to hear Jesus’ parables about fields and vines, seeds and crops have never plowed a field, tended a vine, planted a seed or harvested a crop? Jesus chose these things precisely because his listeners were so familiar with them. We owe it to our kids to not allow this familiarity to be lost, thus placing another obstacle between them and receiving the gospel.

I encourage you to have this discussion in your own congregations and see what fruit it bears. Put it on the agenda of your next Christian Ed meeting and Church Council. How can we better incorporate the spiritual gifts of God’s creation in our efforts to connect our children to our loving Creator? Whether it be a hiking pilgrimage, a plan to feed the birds on your church property, or a full-fledged outdoor VBS, Sunday School or at-home family program, I guarantee that being out among the source of life will bring the faith to life in your children in powerful new ways. “Like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)

You can learn more about Rich’s resources at including Francis and Friends at

5 Things I Do to Manage My Life

Time getting away

I don’t have enough time to do everything that everyone needs me to. That simple truth is the cause of most of my stress. I don’t want to feel like I am letting people down BUT…something has to give. The LEAD team has been keeping time-trackers for over a year now so we can see where our time is going. After reviewing mine month after month, here are the five disciplines I’ve found that work for me personally. How does this compare to yours?

  1. Timing is everything. I can write, study, strategize, and vision better in the morning so I don’t schedule meetings before noon unless I have to. When I can routinely do this at least two or three days a week, my productivity, creativity, and capacity noticeably improve. Working on these same activities at night means I am slower and generally less creative. In fact I often wake up the next morning, reread what I wrote the night before and end up deleting the whole thing to start over!
  2. Keeping all my notes in one place is a game changer. I use one diary at a time to capture both my to-do list and my notes from meetings by reversing the book. No little pieces of paper. The only lists I keep in my phone are lists of books, music, and movies people recommend; the sizes of the people I regularly shop for; my medications; and a priority list for the day and week.
    1. The front of the Journal: The front of the journal includes my notes with the date and the name of the person or meeting related to the information at the top of the page. I take notes by hand because over the years I have learned that if I do this, I seldom need to refer to them – I actually remember what I wrote better if I do it by hand. (It turns out there are studies that support my experience.) But just in case, I save my diaries for two years – if I haven’t referred to them by then, I figure I won’t need them! I know many people have great success with digital tools – I’m just sharing my personal experience.
    2. The back of the Journal: I flip the book upside down and work on my to-do list from the back. Yes, this means I am using the diary upside down, so I try to buy ones that work both right side up and upside down. I am always thinking of things I forgot to do and keeping my diary allows me to easily capture them in one place. What this doesn’t do is order my work – it just gathers it together on a few pages.
    3. To order my work, I set priorities by grouping things onto an A list, B list and C list. Big projects get broken down into tasks and scheduled on my calendar. During my morning focus time I drill down into the A list, one item at a time, leaving the simple tasks for the afternoon.
    4. When the notes and the to-do list meet in the middle, I get a new journal. As the dates are in the front and back it makes it easy to pull off them off my shelf later if I need to refer look back to them. How do I find what I’m looking for? My calendar is the key! It allows me to remember what meeting I had when. This works – I’ve done it for over 10 years!
    5. Team work: LEAD’s work requires the team to constantly manage our to-do lists together. We find that it helps to assign a number value to each item on our lists:

#1 is ASAP

#2 is this week if at all possible

#3 is this month

Given our different roles, our #1s and #2s are not typically the same. In order to operate well as a team, we meet weekly to raise up our #1s and identify where we need help from others to meet those goals; monthly for deeper conversations; and quarterly to do strategic planning and budgeting in retreat (more like a lock-in) to focus our efforts.

  1. Managing my calendar is my personal responsibility. A lot of people may want to set my agenda for me but in the end I am the only one who can say yes or no. I operate with an 18 month calendar (digital), working on three month blocks at a time. Over the years I have found a few rules guide my calendar:
    1. Mark my personal time off on the calendar 6 – 18 months in advance. If I choose to give away time I had blocked out, I add it back in someplace else. If my Monday off becomes a work day, I look for another day within two weeks that I can take off. This is a must.
    2. My husband and I review our calendars monthly. Weekly would be better but I’m being honest here. We sit down and walk through the next 18 months, in less detail as we get farther away. Although my husband’s work life is more predictable than mine so he doesn’t need to keep his own calendar as far out as I do, he appreciates having an understanding of my work life as we set aside time to spend together, to see our children, grandchildren, etc.
    3. *When I was raising children this was a mandatory once a week task so we could navigate carpools, clean baseball uniforms, snacks for the right child at the right place and time, etc. I found keeping ONE calendar for my work life and parenting life was the only way I could manage this. (My worst mistake was the time I thought each child, none of whom were driving at the time, should have their own calendar! What was I thinking?)
    4. I apply my values to know when to say no. Saying no to something I really want to do is still one of the hardest things I face. These days, before I agree to anything, I always ask: “Will this further the vision of LEAD?” What is the question you ask yourself?
  1. Engaging in these disciplines is life giving for me. These little things are bigger than they seem. In random order:
    1. Walk every day. Preferably 2-3 miles.
    2. Make my bed, return the grocery cart to the bin, pick up after myself – these little things are indicators of self-discipline and just by doing them I feel better.
    3. Use Dropbox for all my files so I can access them on any device.
    4. Read email and Facebook twice a day unless I am standing in line or waiting someplace.
    5. Triage emails into quick and important. The quick get answered immediately. The important get answered when I am able to focus, often at the beginning of the day as I get my brain moving or at the end of the day as I clear off my list.
    6. Read at least two or three chapters of something every day. Right now my reading is almost totally focused on the Apostle Paul and leadership.
    7. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. Nothing increases productivity like a good night’s sleep.
  1. Committing to personal faith formation. I do this by:
    1. Praying all day, with intentional time spent praying with others at meals.
    2. Practicing Centering Prayer once a day. Usually in the morning on my walk.
    3. Studying scripture and reading about scripture almost every day and in a small group at least two times a month.
    4. Worshiping weekly.
    5. Traveling annually on faith pilgrimages.
    6. Praying with my husband every night. Even on the phone if I am traveling.

What are your top 5 ways of managing your time?

A few books I have found helpful on this topic include:

Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker

Time! 105 Ways to Get More Done every Workday by David Cottrell

Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

A few websites I have found helpful on this topic include:


Work Smarter, Not Harder