Relationship versus Efficiency

Liz and I returned last week from a conference near London. One of my goals, when I go to a conference, is to come away with some good book recommendations. And I got a few this time!
I’m currently about halfway through Rare Leadership and Building a Story Brand. The latter has been a great help as I start my new marketing role in Communitas. The former has followed up well to Desiring the Kingdom, by James K. A. Smith which I read last month. Rare Leadership, and Desiring the Kingdom have been important in helping me work through some major ideas I’ve been wrestling with around the church we are are planting in Dublin.
But my major take away was something I heard second-hand. One day I was rushing to get Méabh out of our room so we could get to the next place we needed to be. That is when Liz mentioned that earlier that day she heard one of the speakers say,
“Efficiency is the enemy of relationship.”
There are certain things you hear that stick.
This has stuck.
Every time I’m tempted to rush someone so I can get to the next thing…whatever that might be, that quote runs through my brain. And that’s a good thing.
I’m not saying I don’t sometimes choose efficiency . I’m not saying sometimes you don’t need to. ”The ferry departs at 8:20…we need to be there at 7:50…you need to hurry.”
But I am saying, in general, I need to sacrifice efficiency  because it really doesn’t gain what it costs.
*ed. note. Corrected post to read efficiency rather than expediency 
Posted by bob in Formation

Random Thoughts From Our Trip to the States

When you spend a lot of time driving or flying, you have time to think…here are some of the random thoughts from our 5 weeks in the States:

I can’t remember ever seeing so many police on the roads. For a while it felt like they were following us. We actually did get followed from Fredonia to Brocton at 1:00 am on our trip back from the Buffalo airport. I am thankful for cruise control!

One of the two things nearly everyone we spoke with talked about was the cost of health insurance.

The other topic had to do with an election you had in 2016…I forget the details.

At least this store was giving equal time:-) [picture taken in Michigan]

I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but while we were there, we go the idea of taking a 3 month HMA in 4 or 5 years, and driving around the continental US as we have ministry partners in about every region of the country.

I’m not sure if the drivers are crazier in Atlanta, or Long Island. While in Atlanta, we saw a road sign that said 699 people had died on Georgia roads in 2018. I[looked online] and just over three weeks later it is 798.

I only drove on the wrong side of the road 1 time during the trip. And it was an early Sunday morning . Liz almost turned into the wrong lane once…but otherwise, we didn’t have any issues.

Taking the chain ferry in Sagituck, MI.

I had a bigger problem remembering that the hot and cold water are switched.

One of the strange phenomena of a trip like that is it feels like it going so fast. But as you look back everything seems so long ago…was it really only a month ago we were in Chicago?

We are often asked if a trip like that is exhausting. To some extent, it does take a lot out of you. But the energy you get from reconnecting with friends, family, and people who have played an important part in your life more that makes up for it.

Liz and I have had the incredible pleasure of knowing so many interesting and incredible people in our lives. When I was graduating high school, one of my uncles told me that you can tell a lot about a person by the friends they have. I hope that is true.

It is strange going into someone’s home and seeing your picture up on their fridge. (It is very encouraging as well!)

We ate so much good food on this trip! Méabh ate a lot of ice cream and is still amazed that you can’t get chocholate flakes with your cone.

The amount of telemarketing calls people we stayed with and visited was absolutely insane. I would not have a home phone if I lived there.

Speaking of telemarketers…we purchase tourist SIM cards from TMobile for our phones while we are there…we received far more spam calls that we did anything else.

It is a bit of a shock going into a store and the price on the item is not the price you pay. (I forgot several times about sales tax.)

Walking througn NYC

One of the things we try to do on a trip like this is make sure M has a good time. We don’t want her growing up equating ministry with boring or worse. So we try to plan one fun thing each week. We hit the Columbus Zoo, the Central Park Playground, and the Chautauqua County Fair. Her two big questions at each place we visited was:
1) Do they have pets?
2) Do they have kids?

I forgot how much I miss free refills of coffee.

Liz on the shore and the girls in Lake Erie.

I forgot how incredible the Great Lakes are.

It was a great trip! Thanks to everyone who took time to meet up, and especially to everyone who hosted us!

Posted by bob in random stuff

Not So Great Expectations

One of the best parts of doing a Home Missions Assignment is connecting and reconnecting with friends who were part of ministries you’ve been involved with over the years. We have been blown away and humbled as we’ve heard stories of how the early years at the Vineyard in Ithaca impacted lives.

But here’s what I’ve been wrestling with…

Those first 5 years or so are the closest thing to what I’d like to see recreated in Dublin. There were so many things during those early years that I loved about that church…yet at the same time, there was no period of time where I more frequently wanted to quit.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

This morning the penny dropped. The big disconnect for me was that I had expectations that didn’t mesh with what we were doing as a church.

There was a systems quote that got bandied about a lot by church planting types back when we were planting:

The systems you have in place are perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently seeing.

And there was the problem. 

All the coaching we were getting was that success was a big church. The bigger the crowd, the more successful the church (and the church planter).

But we weren’t having rapid growth. We had grown over the first few years but definitely not rapid.

What we did have was community. We ate together regularly. We hung out together. We did outreach together. People’s lives were being impacted. It was basically doing ministry with friends. 

But the church planting gurus and coaches we had weren’t telling us to look at that stuff…we were to count “butts in chairs” and “bucks in the offering.” 

So I was constantly discontent. We weren’t successful…and I wasn’t successful.

  • When we had 50 people, I wanted 100. 
  • When we had 100, I wanted 200.
  • When we got to 200…you already know.

At about 4 years into our church plant, we gave up eating together on Sunday…because we needed a space so that we could grow…the trade off was that we didn’t have the time to have lunch together anymore. I told myself we’ll get back to it in the next place. We never did.

And over the next few years we shifted what we did more and more to give us systems that would help us grow. Because growth became the goal. And we grew!

But there wasn’t a lot of discipleship. (We said discipleship happened in small groups, but it really doesn’t.) There wasn’t a lot of eating together. And while we still got to do ministry with friends, there was an ever increasing percentage of the church that we were disconnected from…and more and more people that were disconnected.

Before we could start missional communities and neighbourhood based churches in Dublin, I needed to have that “butts & bucks” thinking rooted out of my head…and there is still work to do I’m sure. 

If I could go back now and coach myself 16 years ago and coach my younger self we would have used very different metrics…and I could have enjoyed something that was really special.

(the photo is from early on in the life of the Ithaca Vineyard when we were meeting at the Youth Bureau.) 

Posted by bob in Stuff I'm Learning

Tales from the Road : The Old Neighborhood

It is still crazy for me to realize that I moved to Albany 29 years ago this August, and haven’t lived here for 24 years. This morning we had breakfast in our old neighborhood.

The picture above is of the parking lot of the local Hannafords. It used to be Stop and Shop. Back in 1989  I sat in this parking lot in my ‘78 LTD telling God that I was quitting ministry and going home.

It ended up being one of the most important conversations in my life.  Weird how something from 3 decades ago can still feel so fresh.

Posted by bob in personal stuff

Tales From the Road : Tired

We have been seeing way to much of the world through a windshield lately.

We are now in the third and final leg of our Home Missions Assignment. And it might be catching up with me.

Yesterday morning we left Western NY at 6 am (after just under 3 hours of sleep) and drove to Ithaca, NY for a very full day of seeing friends.

In mid-afternoon we drove to the Commons to stop by Trader K’s (one of the things I miss most about Ithaca). We did a quick shop, and I went to drop the stuff in our van while Liz and the girls went to Taste of Thai (one of the other things I miss most about Ithaca) to meet friends for dinner.

After the meal, we walked back to the car and noticed that I never closed the side door after putting the bags in it.

Adrenaline rush.

Brenna and I searched the van, and nothing was missing. Even the change clearly visible between the two front seats was untouched.

I don’t know if everyone assumed that someone was in the car, or if people in Ithaca are just incredibly honest.

Either way, I need to catch up on some sleep.

Posted by bob in random stuff

There is Porn On My Blog

Yesterday I received an alert that the stats on our family blog,, were booming. I figured it had something to do with the fact that we’ve been travelling around, talking to people about what we are doing in Dublin, and ignored it.

Yeah, not so much.

I checked the website stats this morning and saw that I had a higher than normal number of visits (which isn’t all that high to begin with), and the top web page they were visiting was entitled, “Porn.” In fact, 50 people visited the Porn page on

First I thought someone hacked our site and put porn on it. But nope, turns out in 2010 I was doing a sermon series called “Great Sexpectations” (I thought it was clever at the time) and wrote a post about the impact of pornography. The post has an infographic about the impact of pornography and a link to

I don’t know why but in the past 2 weeks it has been viewed over 200 times. In fact, since I merged our old blog ( over here around 2 years ago, it is the most viewed post on our site. On June 19, it was viewed 143 times.

I’ve been thinking recently about cleaning up the site and getting rid of some of the stuff from back when I was in Ithaca…I’d hope the focus would be more on what we are doing now…but, hopefully, the porn on our website is helping someone.

Posted by bob in random stuff

Random Thoughts from WNY

Random things I’m thinking about…

HMA Update:
We are currently starting week 2 of our Home Missions Assignment. Tomorrow (July 4th) Liz and I get on a plane and head to Atlanta for four packed days. We’ll be able to connect with 5 families while we are there…two of whom we have not seen in about 15 years and one more than 20.

So while the travel and the support raising can be challenging at times, reconnecting with friends is encouraging and energizing.

Pray for Dublin
Usually, in Ireland, the talk is about how much rain they get. However, recent news stories are about drought conditions. Recently the greater Dublin area has instituted a ban on washing your car and watering your lawn. In addition, they have been dealing with much higher than normal temperatures. And while it is hot here in the States, we have an abundance of fans and air conditioning…In our place in Ireland, I’m not even sure the bathroom fan works.

Here’s an article from the Irish Times: Fears for autumn and winter water supply if the drought continues

Please pray that we get some rain in Ireland and that there is a break in the heat soon.


One of the good things about being on a trip like this is being able to sit down with people, share what we are doing in Dublin and answer questions. Newsletters & blog posts are nice but extremely limited. And we always figure if one person has these questions, so do others.

One question we hear is about our salary. For example, “Now that you are Director of Marketing for Communitas, do they increase your salary?” Like most missions organizations, our salary is completely dependent on what we raise from financial partners. We do not receive anything from Communitas that we have not raised.

Another question had to do with why we currently need to raise additional support. There are often various factors, but 4 that are big for us right now:

1) Cost of Living…over the years (and we’ve been here 6) things become more expensive. We’ve shared about the rapid increase in housing in Dublin. Recently Dublin was listed as the most expensive city in the Euro Zone for Expats.
2) Exchange rates...the value of the dollar has been about 10% lower than it was 18 months ago. Since we are paid in the US, it means we are getting much less when we transfer into Euros.
3) Ministry Expenses...As the ministry in Ireland grows, it means there are more costs. While we still keep things as minimalist as possible, those expenses come out of our support as well.
4) Attrition…People’s situations change. Job cutbacks, changing family situations etc mean some people who have partnered long-term need to stop or cut back.

I hope that is helpful. Let us know if you have any other questions.

Great Lakes
Over the past week, we’ve been in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, and have driven along Lake Ontario. Having not lived here for a while, you can forget how impressive the Great Lakes are. I love walking along Dublin Bay in Clontarf, but these lakes aren’t a bad substitute!

Final 2 Weeks
After our upcoming trip to Atlanta, we will be exclusively in New York…if you are in Ithaca, Rochester, Albany, NYC or Long Island, please let us know if you would like to connect.

We are planning to do a drop-in dinner someplace in Ithaca on the 11th…we’ll post more when we have the details.

Thanks to all who have been praying for our trip! Looking forward to seeing a few more of you before we head back to Ireland!

Posted by bob

Tales from the Road

This afternoon, Liz, Méabh, and I drove from Chicago to Dayton, Ohio. We had lunch in Dayton and then headed on to Columbus. But we needed gas first.

This has been one of the problems we have encountered on the trip so far. At gas stations, the pumps ask for our zip code for our credit cards. While our cards are American issued, we have an Ireland address. Well, the zip code for our credit cards is “Dublin 3”. Try punching that into to a gas pump.

The good news is normally you can pay inside without the zip code. Today we stopped at a Circle K station. They would not let us pre-pay. So I pumped the gas, and when Liz paid inside, it asked for a zip code. She comes to tell me that, but I am dealing with a notice from our bank saying there is suspicious charges on our account (since we have charges in Ireland and the States.)

So, while I try to get our card reinstated, Liz talks to the manager. We finally relent and take out our Irish debit card. We’ve avoided it because the foreign transaction fees will be through the roof…but we have no choice…it won’t take that one either.

The manager tells us we can take money out of the ATM with our credit card…but we have no idea what our pin number is because we never need it. We have no idea what to do.

That’s when a woman comes up and asks us if we live outside the country. She shares a similar experience she had while visiting her son in China. She says no one should have to go through that. And she offers to pay for our gas.

We can’t refuse.

We ask for her name and address so we can reimburse her. And she tells us that she doesn’t care if she is reimbursed.

We have sent her a check from our account…but that lady’s kindness absolutely blew us away…and I had to share that here.

Posted by bob in personal

Should I Pray or Should I Go Now

(the above photo is from a stop in Saugatuck, Michigan earlier this week)

In the early 90s, Liz and I were on a missions trip in the Philippines. The van they rented to cart our team around had a wonky starter. Nearly every time we piled in, we’d hear that sound signalling for me and another guy to hop out of the van and push. After each success, we’d run after the van, jump in and act like we’d just saved the world.

One time we came out after eating a meal in town and the van was blocked in by one car in front and one behind. Pushing was not an option.

So we prayed. And the van started! Once again we felt like heroes. Until our team leader said, “Typical Americans. You only pray when you can’t do it yourself.”


Recently we were talking in our missional community about taking the opportunity to pray rather than just instinctively jumping into action. The idea being that anybody can help, but as followers of Jesus, we have the advantage of being able to invite the Holy Spirit into a situation, rather than relying simply on our own efforts. And while it is important that we help our friends and neighbours when they are in need, and we have the means to help, who knows what can happen when God gets involved in a situation.

We had a good conversation, with some asking why we wouldn’t just help in all situations. I’ve been thinking a lot about that the past few weeks in the States. Here’s where I’ve landed.
If your neighbours ask if you can help them move, you say “yes.” Offering to pray for their move rather than helping…if you are able, is lame.

But there are other times when someone shares a relational, financial, or other personal struggles. For some reason, many of us default to amateur psychiatrist.

  • Have you tried this?
  • Maybe you should consider doing that.
  • You know, my aunt once had a similar issue and here’s what she did.

And most of that is of little help. It’s generally us filling the quiet with words because we are uncomfortable being with people who are hurting.
Here is where I am definitely recommending, “Can I pray for you?” as the appropriate response.

Now in a lot of ways, these situations are two ends of the spectrum. And in between are some areas where we need to be willing to live in some tension. Maybe we pray when we should act…or act when praying would have been a better option. But that is how we learn and grow.

Actually, it’s more likely we act more than we should rather than pray more than we should. Even our, “sure I can help you move,” reply could easily be followed up with, “Is there anything around the move that I could be praying for you about?”

That’s what I’m thinking. What am I missing?

Posted by bob in stuff in my head, 0 comments

What if…

Have you noticed that normally when we start thinking of “What if’s?” we generally imagine the worst?

Around the start of this year, we began nailing down the dates for our upcoming trip to the States. We still had some uncertainty because one of our kids is taking the Leaving Cert this month. But as April rolled around, we knew we needed to grab our tickets soon.

That is when the craziness began.

This new craziness involved our landlord leaving a voicemail at 10:30 pm asking us to call him first thing the next day.

Which is weird.

What is even weirder is that in the nearly 3 years we lived in that house we had never met or spoken to our landlord. We dealt with an agent for signing the lease, but once we moved in, they fired her. All future communications were via email. 

Until that night. 

When Liz spoke to him the next day he told us an appraiser was coming from the bank. That visit came and went. And we heard nothing.

Since we’ll be in the States for a while, we didn’t want to discover that we would need to find a new place and then move as soon as we got back to Dublin. (You may have heard, finding a place to live in Dublin can be a bit of a challenge.) 

So Liz called the landlord back on a Saturday (now that we finally had his phone number), and he assured her he was not selling. “Buy your tickets, and don’t worry about it,” were his words.

We bought the tickets.

On Monday, our landlord’s new agent calls us to say the house is being sold, and we would have to move out right in the middle of our trip to the States.

Now, I like being dropped into the middle of some chaotic situation where I have to figure out how to get things working. My wife is actually pretty good at it too, but it does stress her out.

Our first response this latest issue to was to go into crisis mode. But, I had a sense that we should treat this as a good thing…at least until evidence to the contrary arose. So I talked to Liz about it, and we decided not to stress about it. We were going to act like this whole situation was a gift we were receiving from God.

The next day, we looked on, contacted the 4 places in our area that were for rent and visited 3 of them. Two of the places gave us the first option, and we ended up taking one the house in Marino.

Now, I am not going to say that the move was not exhausting, and a bit stressful. 


  • We found a place to live, in Dublin, in less than 48 hours. Only people who live here understand what a miracle that is.

  • We had a bunch of friends help us move,

  • We found a house that we are all enjoying living in,

  • We are all enjoying living in Marino. While the people in our neighbourhood in Clontarf were very kind, the people here have been going out of their way to be friendly and talk to us…it has been one of the best experiences we’ve had since moving here.

We so often respond to unexpected change as if it is a negative. “That isn’t what I was planning.” And our interactions get filtered through that. 

But, what if it is a good thing? What if it is a present, not a penalty? Would that impact how we receive it? 

Something I’ve been thinking about lately.

Posted by bob in Something I've Been Thinking About