Posts Tagged ‘Church’

Out of Business

July 1, 2014

My disgust for the continued assumption of corporate philosophy and practice in the Church continues to grow.

A few weeks ago a colleague shared this article with me.  He’s a wonderful man and loving pastor, now retired, seeking to make sense of the sweeping changes and devastation he has witnessed since he began his ministry over 50 years ago.  Like many current and retired pastors, he looks to the latest experts and gurus to deliver verdicts that might have some meaning, that might be able to stem the tide that has emptied many traditional denominational congregations of their youth in particular, and of members in general.

The article he shared with me focuses on pastoral skills that are not actually pastoral, but much more closely identified with business leadership roles.  Framing the vision, engaging the board in planning, leading staff, managing finances, developing future leadership, being the chief communicator and supporting the board.  How often have these duties or slight variations of them been touted as part of the pastoral duty, and how often have congregational boards and councils bought into these assertions (coming as they do from gurus and experts), only to lay into their Called staff for failing in these regards?

I’ll say it again – a congregation is not a business.  The Church is not a corporation.  The pastor is not a CEO.  In our quest to find a more relevant metaphor than shepherd for the modern church, we’ve somehow settled on CEO, and I believe it is only exacerbating the demise not just of congregations but of pastoral careers.

Another article from the same website focuses on the importance of discussing performance as a congregation.  The author asserts that Jesus and Moses (as well as the author’s parents) each upbraided their followers for not performing properly.  Nowhere does the author define what he means by performance.  I see Jesus and Moses criticizing their followers for unfaithfulness and for disobedience, but is this the same thing as performance?  Is it true that “God is judging our performance”, as the author asserts in conclusion?  What does the Bible say about this?  Whose performance is it that is judged – ours, or Christ’s?

I’m no guru or expert.  I haven’t authored any books (well, nothing theologically related).  But this is dangerous quasi-theology used as PR to sell consultation services.  The sooner the Church recognizes that performance is a very different animal in Scripture, and remember that followers of Christ are called to suffer – which might mean dealing with declining numbers and radical change, the better.  Don’t get me wrong – there are Called workers out there in the Church who have no right to be where they are, who are grossly incompetent and even dangerous, and congregations need to deal with those people for the good of the individuals as well as the congregations.

But evaluating your Called staff because your congregation hasn’t significantly grown, or because they aren’t skilled in reading spreadsheets and putting together PowerPoint presentations is a dangerous departure from what Called staff should be about.  I recommend paying more attention to 1 Timothy 3 rather than the latest, greatest, and for-hire experts & gurus.  At least until those experts and gurus can demonstrate that their own performance warrants your respect.


Unity is Hard

June 27, 2014

Tonight and for the next few days, our family will undergo a ritual that we have repeated more than a dozen times in the last year.  We will welcome a stranger into our family and home.  We’ve never met this person.  We know nothing about her beyond her age, her country of origin, and that she’s coming to Santa Barbara to improve her English and learn about American culture.  We don’t know anything about her family, her background, her experiences, her education, her hopes, her dreams.  Perhaps more pertinent, we don’t know anything about her personal characteristics, whether she’s tidy or messy, fresh or stinky, grumpy or cheerful, a morning person or a night person, how well she shares, whether she likes dogs, or children, or much of anything else.

Yet for the next two months, she becomes part of our family.  She has to learn to adapt to us.  We have to learn to adapt to her.  We are committed to working out misunderstandings, clarifying confusion, giving the benefit of the doubt, smiling, being patient, trying to listen more than speak, and otherwise to love this young woman as her family-away-from-home, which is what we are.

In a little over a year of doing this, with people from literally all over the world, we have only had one situation that wasn’t pleasant.  We’ve had no shortage of goofs and mistakes and misunderstandings.  We’ve been stretched in dealing with privileged teens and pampered pubescents.  We’ve learned that you can survive the callouses that form from biting your tongue.  It isn’t lethal.  And only once – and not by our initiation – was a student reassigned because it just wasn’t a good fit.

I’m not bragging, but I’m proud of that track record.  It has taught our family a lot.  A lot that I wish my larger church body (not my particular congregation!) would learn.

I spent the day planning for a conference in the fall that pastors from our region are all supposed to attend.  Only about half of them do.  Some don’t because of logistical reasons – their parishes can’t afford to cover their travel expenses, things like that.  Others don’t because they dislike gathering together as clergy.  I’m an introvert, I get that to large extent.  Conferences are painful and awkward for me as well.  But I go, because it’s important to be there.  Not necessarily important for me, though that could easily be debated.  But important all the same.  Important to my congregation as a tangible reminder that we are not some sort of renegade group out here in paradise.  Important to my brothers in the ministry as a sign of support and encouragement, even if they have no idea who I am and we never exchange a single word.  Important to remind me that I’m not the Lutheran Lone Ranger.

But unity is hard.  Not all of the guys who gather for this conference see eye to eye on all matters.  Some of them disagree pretty firmly on aspects of ministry and worship and Christian life.  For some guys, these differences are reasons to skip the conference all together.  It is their passive or active judgment on all the people that don’t agree with them.  Some of these guys don’t come because they don’t want to take Holy Communion with their brothers they disagree with.

Brothers that are ordained in the same denomination they are.  Brothers who have taken the same ministerial vows that they have.  Because they disagree, they have decided that they cannot Commune together.  They are stating that they are not in unity with the rest of us, or at least those who disagree with them.

I have my opinions and ideas and preferences like anyone else.  But I try to bear in mind at all times that the odds that I’m wrong about something are frighteningly high.  A Masters in theology doesn’t make you theologically bulletproof.  It makes you just sharp enough to be dangerous.  To yourself, your congregation, and your colleagues.

But unity is what we affirm in our ministerial vows.  Unity is what we are called to not just in Christ but by Christ (John 17).  I may not agree with everything a colleague of mine does.  But is he still a brother in Christ?  And is there nothing that I can learn from him?  Nothing he can learn from me?  Isn’t it going to be awfully awkward in heaven to be around people that you refuse to speak to here and now?  Brothers and sisters in the faith?

Unity is hard.  It takes a lot of work.  A lot of tongues bitten.  A lot of grace rather than judgment.  It has to be prized in and of itself, as something to be striven for and achieved to at least a limited degree.  The harder you work at it, the more you realize that it can be done.  It isn’t the end of the world to have a heated disagreement with somebody and not change their mind.  And it certainly doesn’t hurt to sit down around a table with them a while later and share a meal, whether chips & salsa or Holy Communion.  It in fact is very helpful, very necessary, very important.

I need the opportunity to learn how to stay in unity with someone I don’t agree with – who I may not even like!  And I need brothers in the faith who will do the same with me.  Not because it’s always fun and easy, but because it can be done, should be done, and must be done.