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#GLS16 Day 1 – Personal Relections


I just finished up at the Global Leadership Summit, Day #1. For the past 14 years or so, the GLS has been a non-negotiable in my schedule. Simply put, I totally buy-in to the idea that “when a leader gets better, everyone wins.”  And I get better every year at the Summit.

In terms of the talk and sessions, they have been amazing so far. Hybels, as he always does in his opening session, gave us enough material to chew on for the next year; Melinda Gates blew me away and was deeply challenging; Patrick Lencioni is always great. And I have pages of notes from Alan Mulally, Jossy Chacko and Travis Bradbury. And the recent addition (last couple of years) of more and more stories about leaders across the globe, this has been one of the best Day #1 I can remember.

I will chew on, process and reflect upon the content of the sessions more later, but first some personal reflections from today:


Through 14 years at the Summit, I have been there through various seasons of leadership and it has been critical to me in each season.

  • SEASON 1: Young Leader. As a young leader just finding my sense of calling and “leadership feet”, the Summit filled a critical role for me when it was hard to find older leadership mentors who wanted to invest in the next generation of up-and-coming leaders. The Summit became for me a Leadership 101 experience and an annual experience reminding me I wasn’t crazy for going all in as a leader.
  • SEASON 2: Successful Leader. As my ministry grew and I became a church planter, the Summit became the place I would bring our leadership team to every year. We were building a leadership culture, investing in young (and not-so-young) leaders, and the Summit was a critical tool for discipleship, leadership development, strategic planning and an annual recalibration. It was also equal parts challenge and affirmation. Each year I was challenged in some aspect of my leadership, while also being affirmed in my gift, ministry, calling, etc.
  • SEASON 3: Fallen Leader. Seven years ago, I fell and I fell hard as a leader. All very well documented here on this blog as well as in a chapter in Jeff Chu’s book “Does Jesus Really Love Me” (here). Even through that season, I went to the Summit. It was hard, embarrassing, painful. I saw people who had just found out way more about me than they wanted to know, people who had been my peers, and people from the church I had left. I was also essentially “benched” as leader, which made listening to all the talks and messages even harder. I wasn’t leading anything and had blown up my ministry in my own personal scandal. But I kept going because I needed to. I’m not sure why, I needed to. So I did.
  • SEASON 4: Healing Leader. Then over a few years, each year as Hybels would speak, I would literally be balling… real tears. Through this process God used the Summit to help heal my soul and my sense of calling as a leader. Bit by bit, I began to feel again and that meant that I was reconnecting with my holy discontent and a renewed sense that maybe God wasn’t done with me, that maybe He still had a plan, a calling, a purpose for me. Perhaps it was time to get off the bench.
  • SEASON 5: Restored Leader. This year, as I am back, I am working full time in an amazing job/ministry committed to mobilizing our community to break cycles of poverty. In the past year, we have launched a new culinary jobs training program helping homeless, ex-homeless, at-risk for homelessness, ex-cons, etc, develop life skills and job skills. The program is growing and the leadership challenges are real. I am also back in pastoral ministry (part time, bi-vocational), part of a 3-person co-Lead Pastor team leading a young, vibrant, growing church. In many respects, I am as much in the leadership game now — if not more — than I have ever been. And it is good to be around other leaders and learning from great leaders.

So through all the seasons, I am reminded again and again, of why I am so thankful for the Global Leadership Summit.


Today was also filled with three powerful grace moments for me:


During a break, I had a chance to catch up with a guy I have known since he had just met Jesus and was in high school. He has been in full time ministry for the past 9 years or so, many of them hard. But he plugged along — and now ministry is really clicking in some amazing ways. When he was in HS — and then in the years after — I spent a decent amount of time with him and even more praying for him. He had obvious leaderships gifts and I mostly wanted to encourage and mentor him in those areas. A lot of people told me I was wasting my time working with him — he was in a different town than my primary ministry (when he was in HS), and then I was insanely busy with my own church planting… but I felt like God was calling me to love, challenge and mostly encourage this young leader. To see him now and to hear what God is doing in his ministry, brings unspeakable joy to me.


Also during a break, I got to spend 10 minutes or so with the new pastor at the church I left back in 2009. That church had a hard time, frankly, over the past 7 years or so and just called this young new pastor back in February. I pray for that church daily, I pray for its members, its leaders, and its impact on the community. I am as passionate about the mission of that church — which I still believe was God’s idea, not ours — as I have ever been.  In many respects, I still feel unreconciled with church, and I pray about that too. But I very much like their new pastor and he is a really good guy. The conversation was brief, cordial, and I think authentic on both ends. And it reminded me of the provision and faithfulness of God. He loves that church more than anybody, and deeply wants to bless it.


After getting home, I got a FB message from a friend from my high school days. We have kept up some over the years, mostly by FB but also connected in person a few years ago. He is also a regular attendee of the Summit. When we were first friends in high school, neither of us were believers. I became a believer my senior year of high school, but honestly don’t know his story. His message was about a friend he invited to the Summit that he was praying for. I just think it is really cool that we have this connection and bond all these years later… a reminder of God’s goodness, grace and humor.

Those are my (mostly personal) reflections from Day 1… can’t wait for Day 2! And mark your calendars now: Aug 10-11, 2017… would love to have you come with me!


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Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Uncategorized


What Would You Do?

This week, a good friend, who is a Christian and involved in her church, and also a bisexual woman married to a wonderful woman, sent me this:

“Dear Ben, We are seeking wise counsel — We have some friends, n

ot super close, but close enough that we’ve invited them for dinner and we went to their wedding. He’s done work at our house, as he’s a contractor. She posted this and we aren’t sure how to feel about it. On one hand, there are positive parts and of course we understand that it is their right to feel this way, but somehow, it still feels kind of hostile. Can we maintain a relationship with them — we just aren’t sure, but we know that Christ calls us to love. Thoughts?”

Here is meme she was referring to:


What advice would you give?


Posted by on July 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


Additional [More Political] Thoughts About Orlando


Thoughts from watching the on-going coverage out of Orlando… it is too early to know all the facts, but as they trickle in it seems obvious that (1) this was an act of terrorism committed by an American citizen, self-radicalized and influenced by Isis; (2) this was a hate crime, motivated by religious-based bigotry of the LGBT community; (3) mental illness was a factor; and (4) easy access to assault weapons was also a factor.

As for (1): we need to do more to fight these kind of domestic terrorists within our borders. We need to develop better tools and smarter methods. We continue to always fight the previous battles, often being 1-step behind. That said, there is no way in a free country to fully eliminate the threat, especially with soft targets like a night club, move theater, workplace, mall, or college campus. Individual vigilance, reporting suspicious behavior, and addressing issues of mental illness, guns, etc, will all be helpful. Further, we need to give law enforcement the tools and resources they need. And yes, we need to fight and defeat Isis… though no one should be so naive as to think that will be the end of terrorism, domestic or foreign.

As for (2): While we have come a long way in terms of LGBT rights and acceptance, we have not come far enough. While it may not have made a difference in this case, more work needs to be done to fight housing and labor discrimination, anti-LGBT violence, etc. Furthermore, from a faith perspective, the dangerous rhetoric that comes from the far right on LGBT issues, especially from religious fundamentalists, is dangerous and contributes to a toxic culture that leads to violence, suicide, depression and all other sorts of damaging realities for LGBT people. Good people of faith — especially within more conservative, but not fundamentalist, expressions of faith — need to stand up, come out as ally’s, and end the rhetoric and bigotry; good people of faith must own the sin that has been committed in their names (and by them) against the LGBT community; and especially, pastors and leaders need to step up for what is right and just and good — and condemn all forms of LGBT bigotry while authentically welcoming and loving their LGBT neighbors.

As for (3): we must continue to do more, from a social policy perspective, to deal with mental illness. Too many states have made the most vulnerable bear the burdens of budget cuts and financial pressures. Sadly, at least in our state, due to budget issues, we have actually taken steps backwards since Sandy Hook, not forwards. This is shameful and unacceptable.

As for (4): I have no need to debate, but let me simply pose some questions that I would love someone to actually answer for me…

(a) What is the possible logic for Congress to reject the idea that someone on a terrorist watchlist should not be able to purchase an assault weapon?

(b) What possible legitimate purpose would an AR-15 have for a normal citizen?

(c) What actual harm would be done to everyday citizens if we banned assault rifles?

(d) Why, in the wake of 9-11, were conservatives so willing to trade away their First Amendment rights and Fourth Amendment rights (via the Patriot Act, etc), yet are so knee-jerk opposed to any responsible gun control laws?

(e) We are a strong nation of problem-solvers and creatives… we seriously can’t solve the gun issue? We seriously can’t come up with common-sense gun control laws and enforce them?

(f) When will enough be enough?

We must pray. We must heal. We must come together. But more is needed. And that more comes from our political and faith leaders — both of which have dropped the ball.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired.

I am tired of the violence.

I am tired of the tears.

I am tired of the inaction.

I am tired by the excuses.

I am tired by the handwashing.

I am tired.





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Posted by on June 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


My Thoughts Post-Orlando Tragedy


Every terrorist attack or case of mass violence (and I’m sure I buy into the idea that calling an act terrorism makes it different… was Sandy Hook less terrorism/terrifying? To me, it is a distinction without a difference) leads to a collective sense of pain, loss, frustration and sadness.

But when the attack is targeted at a group you identify with, it also leads to a fear that produces anger.

I am more sensitive when I hear of shooting of pastors or at churches; anti-Semitic incidents hurt more than others. Boston and 9/11 struck more because of geographic proximity — I knew people in both that were at “ground zero”.

People who know me know that I’m not a club scene kind of guy. Just not in my DNA. However, I do occasionally go to gay clubs or gay bars. And a few times a year I’ll go to a gay happy hour event or gay networking event. And I have friends who are regulars at gay clubs, gay bars, play on gay softball teams, sing in gay choruses. I have friends who work in these clubs and bars — as dancers, hosts, bartenders. And I’m part of a church that is explicitly and positively supportive of the entire LGBT community. Today, it strikes me that all of those places — places and spaces we go to because they are safe — are potential targets for those who hate us.

All day I have been sadder than usual about today’s tragedy and haven’t been sure why. This one feels more personal and, though I am not a fearful person, makes you think twice about where you go, how you identify, who you date, where you might hold hands or hug or kiss… and that makes me sadder than usual. For myself and all my LGBT friends, brothers and sisters.

It will be tempting in the coming days to use this incident and its anti-gay motivation to divide us even more as Americans. We should not allow it to do so.

We are one community. We can disagree politically and theologically. We can shout and scream and yell and argue. We can be at odds in so many ways… but we are a we. Let’s not let hate divide us anymore.

And on a more personal note… I am a deeply spiritual and religious man who endeavors to follow the way of Jesus every day. To borrow language from today’s sermon, daily I commit to Christ, to His Community and His Cause in the world. I am Jewish by birth and life (still am, always will be!) and Christian by new birth and life (have been for 24 years and will be for eternity). I am also gay.

There are extreme elements within both Judaism and Christianity that reject the LGBT community. At the very extremes, there are those who call for death for LGBT people in the name of God. In both cases, these extremists find justification for their position in a particular interpretation of an ancient text (a text I love!); in both cases, these extremists find justification in the “tradition” of their faith (and who are we to challenge 2000 years of tradition?); in both cases these extremists claim justification in that they once held the majority view within their faith. But let’s be clear: these extremists do not speak for God (nor do I) nor do they represent all Jews or all Christians or the best of what Christianity and Judaism bring to the table.

The same is true of Islam. Fundamentalist Islam, like fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity, is violently anti-gay. But not all Muslims share this view. As there is diversity among Jews and Christians, there is also great diversity within Islam. Our issue is not with religion — Judaism, Christianity, Islam or any other — but with extremism and fundamentalism. Please let us not confuse the issues.

If we wrongly identify our enemy, we will fight the wrong war. Islam is not our enemy. And we must resist the temptation to exchange homophobia for Islamophobia.

Praying for Peace in our World,

Which I believe is only possible by the Prince of Peace,



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Posted by on June 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


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The Master’s Kitchen


I have a confession to make: I fail far more often than I succeed.

I suspect this is true of most people who dream a lot. And I think it is a good thing. Every failure means we tried… and we learned.

Right now we are trying an experiment at the Community Kitchen I lead. I wrote about it yesterday here. We are working to switch over from cafeteria (or what many of our guests call “prison style”) service, complete with segmented trays and long lines and steam tables, to family-style service. It is an experiment. It might fail. But we must try.

Family-style service means having to do three “seatings” and it means re-setting the dining room each time. It means a lot more dishes (real dishes!) It means not just cooking for 100 people, but plattering, garnishing, serving and bussing for 100 people.

As more than one person has pointed out: we are creating a lot more work for ourselves and our volunteers.


Because we have faith that wholesome food, prepared and served with love, bestows dignity and invites hope.

That is our vision.

It is painted right on the wall.

I suspect some people thought it was “nice” to put it up there — a “nice” idea, a”good sentiment”.

Little do they know that I lose sleep thinking about ways to bestow a dignity that leads to life-transforming hope.

And there is something else that drives me.

It’s not my kitchen and these aren’t my guests.

It is His, and they are His guests.

It is the Master’s Kitchen and the guests we serve are His personally chosen guests.

While the Master himself is humble and without pretense — and I suspect would not mind being served on a plastic segmented tray — I also know that is not how I would serve Him, and it is not how He would serve His guests.

Is it more work? Absolutely.

Is food served family-style more nutritious? Nope.

But it is how the Master’s guests should be taken care of.


15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.


34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Uncategorized


“Pass the peas, please”


Over the past 18 months, we have made some major changes to the “soup kitchen” that I am executive chef at.

We no longer call it a soup kitchen. I hate what most people think when they hear “soup kitchen.”  We have started to call it “Community Kitchen On Main”.

We are also now about 90% a scratch kitchen — that means we are cooking and creating wholesome and delicious food everyday, not just opening cans, re-heating food, and grabbing stuff from the freezer.

As much as possible, we make our own dressings, sauces and dishes. I have finally (!) worked through the 20 cases of instant mashed potatoes I inherited from the regional food bank — all real mashed potatoes here. Though I try and limit how often we serve them — we are trying to emphasize healthier foods like sweet potatoes, squash, brown rice, whole grain pasta and fresh produce.

We have also worked very hard to improve the quality and appeal of the space itself. No more VCT tiles, white walls, folding tables. We have wood floors, round custom-built wood tables, artwork from local artists, bright colors on the wall.

And today we launched a new experiment: family-style service.

That means no more segmented cafeteria trays, no more standing in line, no more steam table scoop-and-dump.  Everything is being served to each table — on platters, and in bowls — family style.

Why? Because we have faith that wholesome food, prepared and served with love, bestows dignity and invites hope.

We think family-style is more dignified.

And it also leads to important social interactions, like “can you pass the peas, please?”  No joke, for many of our guests, these kinds of basic interactions are both dignifying and humanizing.

There are two more reasons why I am so committed to trying this experiment… growing up the middle of 7 children, family dinner was one of the most significant parts of our life together. It is where we laughed, cried, argued, shared, caught up and generally stayed connected. In a world increasingly filled with TV dinners, and grab-n-go meals, family dinner was a priority in my family. At our agency, we focus on meeting people’s basic needs. Community — and social interaction — is a basic need as important as food, clothing or shelter.

The second experience I had with family-style was working at a Christian camp in the Adirondacks during college. This camp served over 500 teenagers family style three meals a day.  The idea was simple: model for people what community and family looks like.

So many of our clients are alone. So many have lost family — and community — ties. FOr many, “pass the peas, please” is actually a big deal. A really big deal.


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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


Replacing Sola Scriptura

Rev. Nancy Butler of Riverfront Family Church in Glastonbury, CT, recently gave a fantastic talk entitled “Replacing Sola Scriptura” at the OPEN Network launch conference. The conference centered around the idea of developing an ethos for progressive evangelicalism.

Here is Nancy’s talk… would love to hear what you think! (Full disclosure, Nancy is my pastor and close friend and I think she rocks!)

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Posted by on November 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

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