Ministry

De-Centering

By Rev. Mindi

“We’ve always done it that way before.”

You probably have heard of the Seven Deadly Words of the Church. And it doesn’t matter how often we talk about the need for change or transformation, or that we are in the 21st century, these words creep back up into board meetings, coffee hour conversations, and other areas of decision-making and complaining. Other variations of this are “We’ve never done it this way before” and “We tried it once, it didn’t work.”

All of these statements center us and our experience. The universal “we” can mean the whole church, or it can mean a small group of people, or it can mean just one person under the assumption that there must be more than one. Whatever the case, they are centering themselves. The reason whatever-it-is-you-are-trying-to-change won’t work is because from their experience, from their perspective, it won’t. They are putting their experience above any others.

How do we take a step back in these conversations in congregational life? How do we de-center the ones dominating the conversation when it comes to being the Christian Church in the 21st century? 

This question of de-centering has greater implications. In the current climate of the United States, too often white persons have centered themselves in conversations about race. White people have decided what is or is not racist, what actions are or are not racially motivated. Straight people have centered themselves in the conversations about welcoming and affirming gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Cis-gendered people have centered themselves in the conversations about what gender is or is not. Often, we center ourselves in the conversations that really have to do with other people and not with us, just whether or not it makes us comfortable, and we dominate the conversation rather than accepting an invitation to listen to those who are different.

If we are attempting to be the body of Christ and to “grow” the church (whatever “grow” may mean for you and your congregation), we need to allow for voices to come from outside. We need to de-center the insider voices and move to the outsider voices [Note: you may very well have outsider voices within your congregation—youth, elderly, people who work on Sundays, homebound, folks who come on occasion, children, disabled members, etc.] You may need to de-center the voices of those who are part of the congregation and listen to those who are not. Listen and center the voices of those in the community. 

All too often, churches find a perceived need in the community and decide to address it. However, they don’t always ask those they are supposedly serving if that is the real need that needs to be met. When we center ourselves in the context of mission and ministry, we are doing what we want, what makes us feel good—then we get upset when no one shows up, or they aren’t as grateful as we hoped they would be. We didn’t center the voices of those we should have been listening to.

In this post-Christendom 21st century, maybe it is high time we all de-centered the church voice. We are not the most important building in town. We are not the most important group. We are not the most important thing in people’s lives. God is still working in the world, in our community, and God calls out through the voices that we often have pushed to the margins. We have put ourselves first, our survival first, our prominence first. And we have failed.

I know. We’ve never done it this way before. Let’s take ourselves out of the center of the conversation, and move to listening to those voices that need to be centered. Maybe then the church can really grow into what is was intended—the body of Christ.

15 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2015

By Rev. Evan Dolive

It's that time of the year again, when we stand on the precipice of a new year and look forward to what is in store for us in 2015. Last year, I wrote 14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014, and many of them are still true for 2015. However, given the events of 2014, the church now also has a monumental opportunity to provide healing, justice, care, and compassion in new and exciting ways — ways I believe are important for the church in the upcoming year. 

1. Review what happened in 2014. What worked? What didn’t? Where did we spend our money? How did we touch people’s lives? What one word would describe 2014? Take some time and objectively look at what transpired in 2014.

2. Honestly answer the question, “Why in the world would anyone want to come to this church?" I believe this is the biggest question that every church must ask itself. How one answers this question affects the ministry, outlook, and mission of the church. If you answer this question honestly, the answer might surprise you and scare you at the same time.

3. Answer, "If we closed our doors tomorrow, who would miss us?" Is the church a place to go on Sunday morning or an impactful piece of the community? Is the church a place that is finding areas of ministry that are outside the four walls of the church? Is the church a place of community building, fellowship, and service, or is it just merely existing? If the church closed tomorrow would there be a gap, a hole, a void left in the community or even a particular community? 

4. Then ask the even harder question — "If no one would miss us, then what are we doing here?"

5. Speak up for the voiceless in our own backyard. Too often churches have a understanding of changing the world. Don't get me wrong — the message of Christ has that ability. But instead of constantly looking at overseas mission trip destinations, are we looking in our own backyard? Are there areas that we are missing because we think someone else is handling the problem? There are needs in any-sized community — the church is called to speak up for those who cannot and be the voice they are longing to have. If the church cannot and does not speak to community, state, and national issues then we are missing a big piece of the gospel.

6. Have honest conversations about race. In Ferguson, Staten Island, Ohio, and everywhere in between, the complexities of race in our society has been thrown to the forefront of news, conversation, and lives. Was Dr. King correct when he said that 11 a.m. on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week? For many churches that still does seem to be the case. How the church responds to the issue of race in the 21st century will be extremely important.

7. Re-evaluate missions. What is the purpose of missions? What is our mission as followers of Christ? Is the church supporting missions that support our mission? Reviewing how the work of the church is done will focus the ministry opportunities for 2015. 

8. Remember that failure is not a bad word. So you planned and planned and planned some more and your ministry idea that was supposed to bring people the good news didn’t get off the ground. Well ... that's OK. Ministry is tough. Failure is never easy but it something we must see not as a negative but as a growing point. If we are holding back for fear of failure then we are limiting what God can do in that situation. Churches cannot simply just wait for "home runs." Ministry is more about trial and error than it is an exactly science. So get out there and try something, get your hands dirty, be the hands and feet of God!

9. Love the people, love the people, love the people. And I mean no matter what. The church needs to strip away the cold exterior and welcome people — all people — with the loving arms of God. We need to love people for who they are not for who we want them to be.

10. Answer, "If someone came to this community for the first time what would their impression be?" Some parts of the church have a reputation of being an "insiders" club. For some congregations it is difficult for a new person to find their place or role within the community. If the same 10 people do everything in the church, how can the rest of the church have an impact? If someone were to walk into your faith community what would their first impression be? Is the signage correct? Are things laid out well? Is there someone to greet them yet not ask 100 questions and make them fill out a commitment card? Let's look at the church with fresh eyes and see what happens.

11. Stop the bodies-in-the-pews game. There is more to being a ministry of God than painstakingly counting bodies in the pews. This is does not mean people who are missing are unimportant — it means the church needs to stop defining itself by numbers physically in attendance. What if we worried about how many lives we have touched, instead of the number of people that come on Sunday morning?

12. Pray for ... everything. Patience, peace, mercy, safety, movement of the spirit, direction. Start praying and never stop. The church, the world, and our souls need it.

13. Increase giving. It takes faith to increase giving even during good financial stability but even more when it times are tough. Have faith, take courage, and step out and increase the giving of the church. It doesn't have to be much, but it has to be some. Watch what happens when a little is given in faith.

14. Decrease complaining. Yes, there is a lot to do and few workers to do it. The budget may have its pitfalls and attendance is not what it once was 40 years ago, but that doesn't mean we have to let it affect us and our life. We have a lot to be thankful for. Attitude is important — especially in the church. If people are always complaining — especially about insignificant things — then this will spill over to all parts of the church.

15. Don't give up on the church. I know what Christ said — that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church — but there are times when this feels untrue. People from all walks of life have been shunned from or have run out on a congregation for differing beliefs or theological styles. As the body of Christ we need to remember that the church is made up of imperfect people who are trying to do the will of God. While we might not like the direction the church is heading we cannot give up on it. God has never given up on us — let’s not give up on God.

Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is married to his high school sweetheart and has two children ages 3 and 1. He currently serves in Beaumont, Texas. He also blogs for Houston BeliefGood Men Project, and Radical Parents. For more information about Evan visit www.evandolive.com or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Glad to Be a Disciple!

By Rev. Delesslyn A. Kennebrew

Greetings!

My name is Delesslyn A. Kennebrew and I am glad to be here!  In August 2012, I began my journey on staff at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, TN.  Our church is one church in two locations and I was hired as the Director of our East Campus.  I will be very honest with you.  I had no intentions of joining “The BLVD” or any other Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation.  I cannot recall any friends or former classmates who served in this denomination but I was at a place on my journey where I was just open.  I had resigned from a church just shy of one year before I transitioned onto the staff at The BLVD, which was going through a major transition itself.  Dr. Frank A. Thomas, was heading for retirement in the first six months of my tenure.  Now, he did meet with me to tell me that he would be retiring and left it up to me as to whether I wanted to follow through with their employment offer.  I told him that I do respect his decision to be up front with me and I appreciate it, but I was not coming to this church to just work under his leadership.  I was coming because I really did believe that God sent me to this place and this was my next divine assignment.  And on August 13, 2014, I walked through the doors at 70 N. Bellevue Ave. as a full-time employee at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.  

As I said, I had no intentions of joining “The BLVD.”  I was primarily interested in doing an excellent job in fulfilling every aspect of my job description.  This was a kingdom assignment and church membership was not required.  Actually, most people probably did not know or even care if I was a member or not.  There were a few who asked but since it was not a condition of my employment, my membership was not raised as a point of concern.  After about one year on staff, I was promoted to Associate Pastor of the East Campus and pastoral care and other pastor-like responsibilities were expected.  This meant hospital visits, and counseling, and wearing a robe, which I am still not fond of, and other things as requested.  For the first time in my life, I was called Pastor Delesslyn.  

This was such a significant “title” for me because I was raised in a denomination that does not allow women to preach or enter the pulpit to speak, much less acknowledge or assign or call them (to) “Pastor.”  I was deeply honored and I knew that this was God’s way of continuing to open my eyes to serve in the Kingdom in this way.  I was not convinced that I needed to “join” the church.  I was just serving and loving the Lord with all my heart in this place until my next shift.

But then, a shift happened.

On the last weekend of June 2014, I attended the Quadrennial Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I was invited to facilitate a workshop there and I was very prepared to lead it but I was NOT expecting what happened for me as I participated in this gathering.  I had been on a 21 day fast leading up to the Quadrennial, fasting and praying that the Lord would prepare me as I led this workshop and to keep me focused and grounded as I walked through the various changes I was witnessing at home in Memphis.  So, when I arrived in Atlanta, GA, my Spirit was just OPEN to hearing and seeing something I had never heard or seen before but would bless me without a doubt.  

On the first night of Worship at Quadrennial, I was in a room full of women from all over the world who gather every 4 years for a "revival" of righteousness and justice and service.  I saw the intentionality of the worship to include many different faces and voices.  I heard an inspiring word from the General Minister and President of the denomination, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins.  And I felt at home in this space, amongst these women.  I was so excited to be there and I was ready to learn and to grow and to get connected.  I returned to Memphis, TN with a new sense of commitment and personal conviction to the larger ideals of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I felt like I was one of “them.”  

I felt such a sense of revival for this new home in the larger denomination and on my birthday, August 10, I joined Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I joined because I wanted to be connected to this larger movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.  I wanted to be a part of a denomination that takes seriously the open table where all can find love and grace.  I wanted to be a part of a “family” that loves and accepts me just as I am - a thirty-something full figured African American woman, with sister-locked hair, a personality that is bold and energetic, clothes that are colorful and heels that are high, confidence that is undeniable and grounded in Christ.  I believe that I am welcome and I will remain open to the myriad of ways I can work to make this the best Church that she can be. 

My name is Delesslyn A. Kennebrew.  I am a disciple.  And I am glad to be here!


Delesslyn A. Kennebrew, J.D, M.Div. has nearly 10 years of pastoral leadership experience.  She currently serves as an Associate Pastor at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, TN where she leads the multi-site ministry, young adults, and welcoming system.  Delesslyn loves to write, travel, sing,  teach, preach, and pray.  Check out her blog, Salvation and Stilettos at www.spiritedconcepts.net and her weekly radio spot "Kids Korner" every Sunday at 4:15pm/5:15pm online on AM 1570 WIGO. (Twitter @AudraSunshine)


Thirty Years (Almost) In Ministry and Some Lessons Learned.

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The 25th anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry will be coming later this year.   If you add to those twenty-five years the four years I worked in congregations before my ordination, I’ve been at this work of congregational ministry for nearly three decades.   I suppose I’m getting to be one of the old guys.  That was reinforced last week when my invitation to join AARP came in the mail.  My daughter also wants me to check at our local Goodwill to see if I am old enough to get the 30% senior discount they offer on Wednesday.   

Well, after nearly thirty years of working in congregations and experiencing the highs and lows of church ministry, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  If another minister were writing this post the list of lessons learned would likely be different.  And that is just fine.  We all have our own lessons to learn in life.    

One very important lesson I have learned is that preaching still matters.  Despite all the jokes we hear about people “falling asleep” while we are preaching or about the importance of “keeping it short,” the truth is people long to hear an important and relevant word spoken from the pulpit.  People hope to hear something that engages their life.  It might be a word of comfort or it might be a word of challenge.  It might soothe or it might provoke.  Either way, the sermon is an important part of a congregation’s life and thus should be given priority in a pastor’s life.   To preach on a regular basis to the same group of people, I have found it necessary to have a consistent schedule of study, reflection, prayer and writing each week.  In addition, I spend about an hour every day reading – novels, journals, works on faith and theology.  I allow the words of others to become a primary source of helping me speak words to my congregation.  Though many weeks present challenges to staying on the regular schedule for sermon preparation, I have tried never to step into the pulpit without having done the work appropriate to the task of proclaiming the truth we claim to believe.  I think the congregations I have served have benefitted from this practice.  I also think the parishioners have been appreciative that the time they give to listening to a sermon is valued by their preacher.

Tied to the first lesson is the second.  I have learned over time that it does no one any good to avoid difficult subjects because of the fear of conflict.  The church should be the place that we address in-depth the matters that our media laden culture often turn into sound bites.  Our fear of death, sexual orientation, our cultural obsession with violence, our uneasiness with those who are different, the relationship between faith and science – all of these, and so much more, are matters that the church should be in conversation about.  We should wrap our conversations in prayer and humility, and have a commitment to be respectful and loving to each other when there are differences.  But to not address the important matters of life out of fear of conflict is to render the church irrelevant.  That’s the last thing our world needs.  I have heard the church described too often as a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Such a river can dry up quickly.  The world needs a church that has depth; a church that is thoughtful and engages the important questions and matters of life.    

I have learned during these thirty years that I am not called to be a chaplain to the congregation.  Appropriate pastoral care to people is one of the most beautiful and sacred parts of ministry.  I have sat with numerous families over the years who have suffered tragic loss and been with many people who have had to deal with unwelcome changes in their life.  It is an important part of what I am called to do.  Yet, I have learned that the primary role of a pastor is not that of a caregiver to the congregation.  Our primary role is that of a teacher of the Christian faith.  Even when we are offering pastoral care, it is with the goal of helping people understand what their faith means in this situation.  Though I strive to be as present as possible with people of my congregation, I no longer believe I have to be present in every moment of crisis.  In fact, if I have done my job well they understand that God is with them in all places and all times.  They will remember that God is with them through the gifts and graces of many people, not just the pastor. 

During these years, I have learned that the people in the church I serve will sometimes disappoint me.  And it is mutual, because I will sometimes disappoint the people in the pews.  We are all human beings and thus none of us are perfect.  We seek to live together as a community of faith and sometimes that living together, because of our mutual shortcomings, is not easy.  But recognizing that it is a relationship of mutual shortcomings allows us to practice grace toward one another.  In the church, where we acknowledge that sinfulness is part of the human condition, we should not be surprised that we don’t always measure up to the way “it is supposed to be.”  So hopefully we practice grace, forgiveness, and patience toward each other which helps us move one step closer to the way “it is supposed to be.”

Over the last fifteen years, I have learned that even though technological advances play a role in helping the church share the gospel in this day and time, we have to be very careful with where, when and how we use this technology.  One of the important parts of our work is to help people live into their full humanity and today what that sometimes means is for people to disconnect and look up from the screen and see the life that is happening all around them.  Smart phones and ipads have their place.  We should not fear them, loathe them or honor them.  We have a screen which we utilize in our worship services and for a while I was preparing power point presentations to go along with the sermon.  I soon discovered I was spending a lot of time making certain I had just the right picture for a slide.  Then when I showed it during worship, I was losing something I think is vitally important in public communication – eye contact.  I still use the screen occasionally during my sermons, but don’t utilize it on a regular basis for sermons anymore.

Finally, I think the most important lesson I have learned is even though I take my work as a pastor very seriously, I don’t take myself too seriously.  Over my thirty years of ministry, I have pastored four different congregations, having been in my present church nine of those years.  All three previous congregations I served continue to gather for worship and be engaged in ministry in their communities.  The work I did as their pastor was important while I was there, but I was by no means indispensable to their life as a faith community.  There is a wonderfully freeing aspect to that lesson learned.  It isn’t all about me, and I am just fine with that.

Well, those are some of the lessons I have learned over the past three decades of pastoral ministry.  Even as I was writing I thought of a dozen others – one of those being it is better to say too little than too much.  So, I am done except to say that because of the lessons I have learned I am able to laugh more freely, love more deeply, and care for others more honestly.   After thirty years, I’ll take that.

        

The Myth of the Ten-Year-Full-Time Pastorate

By Rev. Mindi

I don’t know where I learned the myth—somewhere along the way in attending church in my youth to my college days and even into seminary and my first call—somehow, I believed that the average call to pastoral ministry in congregations was about ten years. After consulting with a few other seminary friends, they tell me that they also heard this myth in seminary. I believed that churches provided full benefits and adequate salary and housing that would help cover my student loans from college. I believed I would be able to have my own one-bedroom apartment and take my day off and work a 40 hour workweek.

That all changed very quickly. My first call was full-time and did offer me retirement and health insurance for me—but when I got married, not for my spouse unless I paid for it. My first call did not pay an adequate salary nor was the housing allowance enough to cover my rent—I found a house with three other roommates to split the rent four ways (I did have my own bedroom), and I was able to pay a car payment on a used car—but without consolidating my student loans I had $45 after every paycheck. After consolidation, I had $145 to pay for groceries and gas. Needless to say, I opened a credit card in order to survive that first year and a half until I received a raise. Then my roommates moved, and I had to move into an apartment with a roommate with higher rent. The debt caught up quickly.  This was all while working at one of the most prominent churches of my denomination in that state, connected to a seminary and regarded as a pillar church, a church that did not pay its staff a livable wage.  In addition, I was often working 50-60 hours per week. I was in charge of starting and building the youth group, running the church school, participating in worship and other duties in the life of the congregation. However, most of the time I did manage to take Friday off. I stuck with that, though I worked several 12 hour days during the week.

It wasn’t until my second call, just less than four years later, when I moved into a parsonage and I received a salary in which I could meet my expenses. Here, I was paid a livable wage, my family was covered under health insurance, and I worked reasonable hours during the week (40-50). In my first call I was an associate minister; in this call, I was the senior pastor of a smaller congregation.  It seemed perfect. I imagined myself there for seven, eight—even ten years. We wrote a family leave policy into my contract and I had a child. I began to work on writing in sabbatical leave, as the congregation wasn’t used to sabbatical leave before.

But even there, I ended up moving before four years. My husband received a call to a church in another state, and it seemed an opportunity he could not pass up.  It was bittersweet—a great opportunity not only for my husband, but for us as a family as I could be home more with our son—but leaving a wonderful church community and call.

To be honest, I really wrestled with leaving in this time. I felt that somehow I had failed to live up to the standard of a ten-year pastoral call. But then I began having conversations with other, older pastors and I suddenly learned that the ten-year pastoral call is a myth. And then it hit me: my grandfather, a pastor I had looked up to as the model of the perfect pastor, never had a ten-year call, either. Most of his were 4-5 year calls, several were shorter than that.  Many times it was because of unhealthy aspects of the congregations he was serving. Sometimes, though, it was because of family dynamics and choices made for the entire family.  Sometimes he served part-time congregations and did other work on the side. My grandfather had a slew of odd jobs over the years to help make ends meet at times.

I was so worried in leaving that church that I was leaving behind any chance of having a full-time, long-term call again. That somehow I would be marked by this. Thankfully, this has not been the case—in talking with search committees, most have been very understanding of the decision to leave full-time ministry to care for my child and to move for my spouse’s call.

At this time, I am serving at two part-time calls. I do not have full benefits—I rely on my spouse’s insurance to cover the family.  It is working, though it is hard to be in two places—as my husband, who also serves two congregations, can attest as well. Neither of us can envision a ten-year pastorate any more.

At a recent gathering of younger clergy, none of us saw ourselves in a ten year pastorate. Most of us were averaging a vision of about five years. Times have changed. And congregations, for various reasons, are no longer preparing for long-term pastors. It’s not only that fewer congregations are not providing full time salary, housing and benefits, it’s not only that there are unhealthy congregations that run through pastors every few years--it’s that our understanding of vocation, call, purpose—it is all changing. This is not to say pastors are still not called to congregations, but that perhaps the Spirit is moving in new ways.

It seems to me that one of the shifts that has happened is that the leadership within churches has become more long-term, fixed (even bylaws have been changed in churches I have served to allow for continuous terms), the pastor’s tenure has become shorter.  In congregations with history of long pastorates, often the leadership within the church went through periods of transformation and change. New people were brought into the lead, new styles brought on, new models tried out. Now, in my experience with congregations with shorter term pastorates, the leadership has stayed the same, but the pastor is the one who changes. Sometimes this is good; sometimes this is stagnant and the problems are associated only with the pastor.

A short term pastorate is not necessarily a sign of an unhealthy congregation or pastor—sometimes, the Spirit is doing something new, and the work that was done between the congregation and pastor needs to shift or move on. And often, in places where there perhaps was an unhealthy element within the congregation that didn’t get addressed by an interim (and intentional interim ministry is a key point that I am not addressing at this time) a new pastor is able to help the congregation move forward and become healthier, and once that new health is achieved, it may be time for a new transition, a new shift.  

Pastors are all unique and have different gifts and abilities. As the kinds of pastoral ministry change along with the settings (there is no one-size-fits-all pastor for an “average” church, as may have been perceived in the past) perhaps certain skills and gifts are needed in certain times of the church’s life, and the pastor find themselves wanting to continue to use those gifts and skills in new settings.

Pastoral ministry is changing, as much as the church continues to change, as much as pastoral ministry has changed. I’ve reflected on this before: in my twelve years of pastoral ministry, I have gone from having a cell phone as an emergency phone for my car only, to using my cell phone as a way of providing pastoral care through text message, tweeting prayers, and connecting with others in leadership. I have moved from being in the office 8-5 to being at the coffee shop in the mornings and a bar in the evenings. As the world of pastoral ministry has shifted in the past ten to fifteen years, so has the focus of gifts and skills in pastoral ministry, and so has the vision of the pastor’s role within the congregation. And while there are still full-time pastors serving in congregations 10+ years, the ones I know I can count on one hand. The myth is not holding up as it once did--if it ever really did.

No more Either/Or; Now Both-And

By Rev. Mindi 

“The world has changed.”

I hear this all the time in the church: “The world has changed.” And of course it’s true, and of course it’s the same. Nothing new under the sun. World without end. And we don’t like change.

I think one of the most difficult changes for people, however, has been this shift from Either/Or to Both-And. This is within the church and within society in general. And perhaps the shift has come in waves across generations, through Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and in GLBTQ equality; and this wave of Both-And is just finally smacking the shore and changing the Either/Or landscape forever.

Church doesn’t look like it used to. Church was in a big building with a big committee and the most important thing were two-parent-heterosexual young married couples with children coming through the door.

Churches now have a building and don’t have a building. Churches now have heterosexual and homosexual couples and single people and no children and children and couples not married and older people bringing their grandchildren and animal blessings for pets in October and they meet in traditional buildings and coffee shops and movie theaters and homes and schools.

Even in the SBNR (Spiritual-But-Not-Religious) debate the wave has drawn over the conversation: Church now is full of religious and spiritual people, and so are coffee shops on Sunday mornings and bars on Tuesday nights. The either/or dichotomy is not working.

It’s not working among families where dads stay home and moms go to work or *gasp* both parents share parenting and work roles. Or parents partner with other adults to co-parent and form relationships beyond traditional models. Or among people who are genderqueer and do not claim a traditional male or female identity. Either/Or thinking does not work in families or churches anymore.

And while we have a long, long way to go, many of our churches are starting to look different among the younger generations as multiethnic families grow up. We all have heard the statistics: White-Euro-Americans will no longer be the majority racial/ethnic identity among those under 20 by the year 2020. Everything is changing. Our identities are going to be changing, and this will be huge for traditional White-Euro-American churches. Some of our traditions and cultural practices will change and I don’t think we’ve recognized that yet. But it’s coming.

Either/Or isn’t working anymore.

And in fact, I’m not sure it’s never worked, if we believe in the fully-human-*and*-fully-divine Jesus. Jesus was not Either/Or. Jesus was Both-And.

Jesus ate with the leaders as well as with the poor. Jesus welcomed the children and welcomed the adults. Even when Jesus said, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not hate father and mother,” we know James and John loved their mother and Peter his mother-in-law and we know they were flawed people who still were Jesus’ disciples. Even when Jesus used either/or language with the disciples, we know that Jesus still came to that group who had utterly abandoned him to the cross and said, “Peace be with you.”  Even Jesus cannot be bound to the Either/Or. It’s Both-And.

Both-And gives us room for tradition and innovation.  Both-And gives us room to teach our history and embrace the newness of change. Both-And says all people are welcome, whatever kind of family or no family.  Both-And says traditional pastoral ministry and new community ministry are needed by the church.  Both-And says yes to traditional church at 10am on Sunday and yes to new ways of being spiritual community. Both-And says that our understandings of gender and sexual orientation and race and culture are all being challenged and are more fluid than we had thought. Both-And says we have more than one option when it comes to challenging the human rights abuses in Syria and in other parts of the world. Both-And says there are many options for peace.

We’re moving to a Both-And world. That’s not to say it isn’t scary. The things we once knew we don’t anymore. The world is changing. I don’t have all the answers. And I won’t say it’s always a good thing, but it is what it is.

Everything is changing. Let’s be sure we’re alert, aware, and ready for the wave coming. World without end.

That Ministry Thing

By Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee

Today is kind of a special day to me.  It’s the anniversary of my ordination—it seems sort of like a lifetime ago and yet, it feels like yesterday.  I remember my friend and colleague who preached a tremendous sermon.  I remember my sister dancing as my mother sang.  I remember the church in central KY that nurtured and loved me through seminary and cared for me in the years to come as well.  They were patient enough to listen to my early sermons, engage me in theological reflection, and challenge my ecclesiological understandings.  They blessed me with their presence and loved me into a ministry that has had many faces and expressions but has always been grounded in faith and shared in love.  

The other day my daughter and I swung by her dad’s house so she could pick something up for her big weekend plans.  A neighbor waved at me and I got out of the car to say “hello.”  It had been a while since we had seen each other and we exchanged the normal pleasantries.  And then, she asked me the question:  “Are you still doing that ministry thing?”  Ugh… I shouldn’t be surprised by the question because I have been asked that many times in my life.  The father of one of my friends asked me right after I had my first child.  Someone else asked me after my divorce.  And then, yesterday… Ugh, again.

I know, I shouldn’t expect everyone to be so evolved, and yet I do.  So, for the record:  I am still doing that ministry thing.  It looks different now, but ministry has never been a fleeting notion or a phase through which I was passing.  It has been the thing I love to do since the day I first spoke to my father about it at 16 years old.  

I remember sitting at a restaurant with him in the midst of our Sunday routine.  First, we would go to worship where my mother was serving. Then, we would grab lunch as my father prepared for worship at the retirement community where he served.  On this day, Dad and I were eating alone.  My sister was off at college and Mom had a meeting.  

I said something like, “Dad, I was thinking about going into the ministry.”  

He said, “If you can do anything else, don’t go into the ministry.”  

He was right.  If I would have been happy, really happy in any field but ministry, then my years in seminary wouldn’t have been very fruitful.  Ministry is what I love to do and over the years I have witnessed and understood that ordained ministry has many expressions.  It has been my blessing to experience this ministry in so many ways.  

Ordained ministry is about serving the church in everything we do.  It is about accepting a vocation that calls us far beyond a paycheck or even our training.  It is about listening to God’s call over and over again and being ready to hear the voice of God even when we believe we know better.  

I am not serving a congregation right now at least not as a pastor.  I serve as an elder.  I worship with the congregation and I help to lead a children’s worship ministry.  I get to celebrate in the pew and sometimes in the pulpit.  I preach where and when I am asked.  I have celebrated life and God’s presence in ways over the last few years that have truly surprised me.

Shortly after my ordination, I couldn’t have known that I would spend 2 years watching the presence of God as revealed in children and young adults living with special needs.  But I am a better minister, preacher, friend, wife, parent and counselor because of the amazing love I witnessed and experienced working with this group of individuals.  I am changed forever because so many families shared their children with me.  

Shortly after my ordination, I couldn’t have known that I would drive 100 miles once a month to join in worship with the same congregation that had been served by my uncle.  But my experience of church and my love of community have been made richer and fuller by the witness of that small community.   I am blessed today because God called me to preach to that small gathering of believers.   

Shortly after my ordination, I couldn’t have known that I would be going to school and working as a substance abuse counselor.  Here I am, though, called to be a presence of healing and wholeness in a community broken by addiction.  I don’t preach.  I don’t teach bible verses.  I don’t sing hymns.  But I do sit with individuals, families, and groups who have known how addiction breaks spirits, ruins lives, and decimates relationships.  

I practice the presence of God every day at work.  I use the gifts I was given to share the love of God with the people who walk into the office.  So, yes, I am still doing that ministry thing.  I am still living into the vocation of ordained ministry.  I still hear God’s call and rejoice that so many people continue to nurture me in that calling.  

Church doesn’t look like it did when I was child, or a teen, or a young adult, or now as a mother of a teenager and two near teenagers.  Ordained ministry doesn’t look the same either.  But they are the same at the core because both the church and ordained ministry are about living the good news of a gracious and loving God.   

On this anniversary of ordination, I would like to say “thank you” to the people who have helped me hear God’s call most clearly—and yes, that includes the ones who have asked, “Are you still doing that ministry thing?”

Idealized Failure

By J.C. Mitchell

Growing up in New England, I remember going to Woolworth’s counter and spinning the seats, but generally my mother would take us to a different store called Caldor.  It was a regional discount department store that originally started as a 5 & Dime.  It was where I am sure most of my toys and clothes were purchased.  I even remember the tent that I picked out when I turned ten was from this predecessor to Wal-Mart.  There were stores throughout the East, but the one in Ridgefield and Norwalk were the two I knew like the back of my hand.  

Caldor is no more than a fond memory, for the Ridgefield store is now a Kohl’s, and in Norwalk, a Wal-Mart.  Honestly the items are not very different, especially since fashion seems to repeat itself, and retro is currently quite popular.  Therefore I have been known to say to Mindi often, “Let’s go to Caldor,” referring to Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, or Freddies.  Her correction has turned to a laugh, for it is generally all the same thing anyway.  

Caldor and Woolworth’s both came to end in the same decade, but the former was the one where I had the stronger memories.  Today I compare any department stores to my Caldor.  I say “my” for it is actually an idealized memory.  Kohl’s and Wal-Mart are the successful competition, yet I can’t shake my boyhood memory.

Living in the past can keep stuck us in the present: it is not the past because you actually cannot go back, but you cannot go forward as well.  We all have our Caldors and the church is often one of our strongest.  Of course, a store is not nearly as emotional as a church, but it is easy to see how hard it is to progress when we only have the conversations that start with, “I remember….” Or “What if…”  Well, the reality is I now shop at Freddies (Fred Meyers) and I still have the essentials and some things I want and do not need. 

 So upon reflecting on my Caldor memory, I realize it was not their prices or logo, but that my mom would bring me there with my sister. That when I put on a new shirt, even if it wasn’t bought at a fancy store, I knew of my mother’s love.    I worry less about remembering the store or trying to figure out how they could have stayed competitive.  I am fine with knowing the store was for a season, but the memory lasts a lifetime, compelling me to make similar memories with AJ, my son. 

Early in this millennium the church has seen a lot of attempts of change.  We are not a business, which I cannot over emphasize, but I do believe we can learn from the reality of these “failed” department stores.  Of course I am sharing how my memory is often trapped by our idealization of our past.  This is a very real problem and we need to be aware of this when looking to implement new ways of being church, be it in worship, study, programs, or space.  The other key is to remember that we can also learn from “failed” ministries.  I put that word in quotes, because is it a failure to have served people but only for a specific time?  I do not think so.  

If we are looking to create new churches and new programs to serve people that have felt the church is not relevant, we need to understand we are not to create an institution that will last for eternity.  That is for the Divine, not us.  I want to be clear that we should not make the Gospel relevant: the Gospel is relevant.  However, the reality is there are many people that are suspicious, bored, or mad at the human institution we wrap the relevant Gospel within.  So if we criticize the traditional model and believe it must change, and even die to make room for a Resurrection--we must be ready that our new emergent programs, churches, thoughts, and ways will not last forever, either.  

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