Pastors

The Mysterious Magic Pill

By Colton Lott

 

This is going to seem like an article about politics, but it’s not. Promise. Just keep with me. How folks feel about one issue/item/thing often reflects how they view another issue/item/thing—like how our views of the church influence our views of politics and vice versa. For example, this week Derek Penwell (one of the senior writers for [D]mergent) wrote a fantastic article about Donald Trump and evangelicals, which you can read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-penwell/evangelicals-love-donald_b_8058518.html. For all of you who won’t read the article, he says that evangelicals crave a cultural relevance that Donald Trump seemingly has.

But Rev. Penwell isn’t the only one talking about the GOP nomination and the takeover by non-political candidates, such as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Virtually every news source has article after article asking “Why are voters gravitating towards these unconventional candidates?” The peculiar rise of these candidates is not only a topic of the talking heads on the national level, but one that is happening in my own intimate world, as I have  family members who favor some of these dark horse candidates. On the whole, I am intrigued with their support of folks who, in the eyes of every savvy political strategist, should properly be considered “losers.” So I, too, keep gnawing on that why.

When I conduct my informal research, the responses are something like, “we need someone who knows what they’re doing,” or, “we need an outsider to fix Washington,” or “I want someone who has a business background to fix the financial mess.”

I don’t mean to de-legitimize the benefit of fresh ideas to any corporate body or diminish the way that different forms of knowledge come together to make a more powerful whole. But where did we come to believe that any one person possesses a secret knowledge that will somehow “save” this entire country?

Because at the root of many of these conversations, the subtext of what I keep hearing is: “we desperately need a magic pill that will shock our system into working like it did ‘in the good ole days.’”

In truth, I don’t have much interest in using my weekly article for political analysis. But this style of thinking/wishing/hoping is not isolated to the political sphere; indeed, these unsaid-but-ever-near desires show up far too often in the church. In the parking lots comes the whispers of:

“If we just had a young pastor, we could get young families.”

 Or in those fraught moments we may let say something like:

“Our pastor doesn’t have a clear vision or leadership. If we just had someone who would tell us what to do, we would be successful.”

The list goes on and on about the good fruit that follows the “if we just had…”

Are leaders and leadership important to institutional vitality and success? You bet. Can poor leadership disrupt and seriously injure religious communities? Absolutely. Can a pastor make everything good and smell like roses? Definitely not.

When churches decide to pin all their hopes on a minister they are trying to swallow the elephantine magic pill that will solve the problems that come with being church in this time and in this place.

A new president nor a new pastor will fix all the problems that plague life as we know it. Just as running a successful government takes a sincere congress and prudent courts, a healthy church takes praying elders, service-oriented deacons, and loving members. Perhaps we would be well to remember that revolutions are lengthy affairs; that turning around lives and culture are like steering a large ship with an undersized rudder; that churches are successful in how they are faithful to God, how they work alongside what the holy is doing within their community. We can’t wish a better time into being. We can’t hire solutions. We can’t elect a savior. But we can stop reaching for the opiates, stop begging for the magic pills of wonderfulness. By breaking free from our addiction to dreams unobtainable we can start to be authentic and earnest no matter what conditions we find ourselves to be in.

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Clip art used can be found at: http://www.clker.com/cliparts/b/e/I/U/t/B/pill-md.png

Letting Go of the Ego

By Dr. Mark Poindexter 

Last week I was on vacation.  Other than a night away with my wife, I had nothing planned.  I spent the week doing those things that I enjoy and which enhance my life.  I read a couple of books.  I wrote a few pieces.  I rode my bicycle.  I ran several days in preparation to run a road race with my son.  And I rested.  I didn’t call the office to check in at church.  I didn’t go in each night, after everyone else had left, to check the mail and clear my desk as I have done in the past.  I stayed away.

Though it has been a long and hard lesson to learn, I have discovered that I am not nearly as indispensable as I once thought I was.  When I first began my works as a pastor, I believed that just about everything in the congregation was my responsibility – from the care of the building and grounds to the physical and spiritual well-being of the members.  If the water fountain wasn’t working, I needed to make certain it was fixed.  If someone quit coming to church, I needed to fix that as well by discovering what I had done to discourage their interest . . . because surely it was something I had done.  If a new ministry was starting, I needed to be the person out front leading the charge.  When I went on vacation, I would call into somebody at least once, sometimes more, to check in on things and coordinate those matters that needed my attention. I was certain that there was always something that needed my attention.  I could go on with the many ways that I thought I was indispensable to the congregations I was serving, but I think you get the point. 

The humbling lesson I learned over the years was that I had confused the real needs of the congregations in regard to pastoral leadership with the needs of my own inflated ego.  This became clear to me about ten years ago, when after saying “Yes” to every opportunity that was provided to me in the church, the community and the denomination to feed my ego need to be out front leading (and there were many such opportunities and most of them worthy causes), I found myself, after a time, becoming very irritable and angry about people asking so much of me.  I was complaining about all the demands on my time to my wife, Becky. She listened and then said, “You know, Mark, you can say ‘no’ to some of those things . . . if your ego will let you.  Other people are just as capable as you are.”  I did not like what my wife said.  I was very upset that she did not see the “servant’s heart” that I was trying to have.  Of course, she was right. I just didn’t want to admit it – that truth hurt too much.

It all came crashing in on me, literally crashing, a few weeks after that conversation.  While driving my truck, I blacked out and crashed.  I have no recollection of the wreck.  All I remember is waking up in the emergency room of the local hospital and being sore all over. Though the doctors offered several possible explanations of what might have caused me to lose consciousness, there was never 100% certainty about the cause.  As I reflect back on that time, I have become convinced that my body and mind shut down from pure exhaustion. It was an exhaustion rooted primarily in the needs of my own ego.  It was a painful lesson to learn.  The truth of my wife’s words stung.  The wreck caused not only physical pain, but emotional pain as the rumor mill turned about what actually happened.   A painful lesson, yes.  But also, for me, painfully necessary.

In the nearly ten years since that event, I have sought to have more balance in my life.  I have tried to remind myself on a regular basis that though I need to be faithful and diligent in the leadership I provide, not everything depends on what I do or don’t do.  I spend more evenings at home than I once did and less at meetings.  I do say “yes” to opportunities that come along now, but I am also much more willing to say “no.” I remind myself on a regular basis that I’m not the savior for any person or congregation.  My work is to help folks learn about the one who is the Savior for us all. 

I decided to write this article because in this time when so many congregations are aging and in decline, so many pews empty and resources dwindling, it is easy for pastors to think it all depends on us – growth, new energy, new ideas, resurgent budgets, creative programs.  We can begin to think if we just work harder then everything will turn around.  The truth is, all any of us can do, is the best we can.  And we can only be at our best when we take care of ourselves, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  One of the first steps in that process of well-being is realizing that for any of us, though our leadership is important in the life of the church, none of us are indispensable.  The church existed long before we were around and it will continue long after we are gone.  We are called simply to be faithful servants during our time . . . and we can’t be faithful servants of Christ if we think it is all about us.

This is a quote from Dr. Howard Thurman that has had a growing impact on how I seek to live and provide leadership in the church:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.  Because what the world needs most is people who have come alive.

Coming Out as a Christian Liberal

By Rev. Mindi

I attended and graduated from a small, liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, a college affiliated with my denomination.  In my first year, I became involved in all of the different Christian organizations on campus, ranging theologically from middle of the road to conservative. The few theologically liberal Christians on campus that I knew (that admitted to being Christian) didn’t attend most of the Christian organizations’ events or kept quiet about being theologically liberal most of the time, as I did for my first year.

But by my sophomore year I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I didn’t like hiding part of myself just so I could feel like I belonged and fit in to Campus Crusade or any of the other groups. I grew up in a congregation that was Welcoming and Affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning folks, and there was a group on campus that was the equivalent of a gay/straight alliance. In addition, my pastor had recently written a book about his journey as an evangelical pastor coming from a place of “love the sinner,” to full acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people. I wanted to share this book with the group and hopefully find a place where I was welcome with my liberal Christian theology.

I attended my first meeting and after about a half hour, I finally introduced myself. When I mentioned I had brought copies of my pastor’s book for free, I heard a collective gasp as people’s eyes grew wide. I suddenly realized they thought I was there to condemn them and I quickly had to assure them that was not the case.  Once they knew I was not only an ally but convinced by my beliefs that God’s love meant a full inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the tension left the room.  Following the meeting, several people stayed and we chatted about our religious backgrounds.

What followed was story after story of rejection. A Missouri Synod Lutheran who had faithfully attended church with her grandparents until she came out at seventeen and when the church rejected her, she rejected the church and Christianity. A Catholic who now identified as spiritual but not religious. An evangelical Christian who was now an atheist because she had not experienced love from Christians in the way she imagined love was supposed to be.  Story after story after story. 

And finally, a story of acceptance.  After almost everyone had left, a woman who identified as a Quaker and attended the local Friend’s meeting spoke to me. She spearheaded change in the food purchases by the campus cafeteria in regards to migrant worker’s rights and was involved in raising awareness of social issues on campus.  She shared that it was her trust in Jesus’ teachings in why she was involved so much in the local community.  But as far as I know, she never shared about her faith in that way outside of this small gathering, with the few who had not left.

It’s time for liberal Christians to come out and stand up. This week, Jason Collins came out (and I had to look up who he was because I’m not an NBA basketball fan). Sixteen years ago yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres came out on live TV. I was in college, junior year, at a “coming out” party put on by the student group and the one fraternity on campus that did not discriminate based on sexual orientation.  Every day, people come out to their families, to their pastors, to their bosses, to their friends.

How many liberal Christians still hide their beliefs, because they don’t want to rock the boat? How many liberal Christian pastors stay quiet when a member says a derogatory slur, making the excuse that “they are a long-term member, I can’t offend them,” or some other excuse? How many liberal Christian leaders say nothing because “the issue hasn’t come up in my congregation”? 

How many more stories will we continue to hear of people who have been rejected by their church, so they have rejected their church, their religion, or God, altogether?

It’s been seventeen years since I sat in that campus room and came out as a liberal, welcoming and affirming Christian. After that moment, I didn’t hold back from my friends my views. Eventually I dropped out of most of the campus Christian organizations, except for one, the Student Chaplain’s group. My junior year also marked the year I was not alone. While I had known a few other liberal Christians on campus involved in the different organizations, they had kept quiet in public about their views. But my junior year, two others from the Student Chaplain’s joined the gay/straight campus alliance group. And one eventually came out about her sexuality as well.  And that all happened because one night I was hanging out with members of the alliance group and these two Student Chaplains came up to me and I introduced them and invited them to join the alliance group.  

It’s been seventeen years, and yet I know so many pastors still afraid to come out as welcoming and affirming or open and affirming today. It’s long overdue, friends. Come on out. Stand up for equality and justice for all LGBT folks. Even if you don’t think your church is ready to join O&A or W&A yet, they aren’t going to get there at all unless they know their pastor will help lead the way. And you never know what youth is hanging on by a thread, needing to know not only that God loves them, but that God’s representatives in their community—their church and especially their pastor—love them too. Otherwise, I fear that more college campus alliance groups will be filled with the same stories mine was—stories of rejection and loss, instead of stories of Christ’s love, faith, and hope.

THE SECOND COMING - RECLAIMED

Regarding the future of the church,we have made a mistake.

It is not about Reformation II (or III or IV or V or...) It is about the Second Coming of Jesus

It is not about the coming death of the church. It is about the coming transformation of the church.

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The Second Coming is an inside joke.... ...To those who do not "get it" - The Second Coming is an apocalyptic view that awaits the arrival of a militant Jesus who will violently eliminate evil from the world. It makes for best-selling religious literary fiction, great cinematic special effects, and lousy-abusive-useless theology. ...To those who do "get it" - the joke is that Jesus is already here, peacefully present. Jesus "returns" for each person as they discover and embark on the life-path that Jesus walked. The "Second Coming" is personal - it is neither an apocalyptic nor a global event. The epiphany by the women on Easter morning was that, even though Jesus was executed and buried, the path walked by Jesus still exists - and by walking that same path, the message and example of Jesus is resurrected. Many find this epiphany to be transformative, their old self dies and a new transformed person is resurrected from a dead and buried former life. By walking the path - living The Way of Jesus - they continue and extend the path and message and life of Jesus. In doing so, our lives proclaim:

Jesus is arisen! Jesus is here! Jesus appears to us! Jesus walks with us! Jesus breaks bread with us! Jesus lives! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The church must go the same way as Jesus. The church must die and be buried - and be reborn through an epiphanic resurrection and transformation. The church cannot be rescued. The church cannot be reformed. The church cannot evolve. At some point, the current church structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions must be abandoned and demolished and replaced - existing only in our memory as a history lesson of how not to be church.

Those of us who are Baby Boomers or older - and regardless of whether we participate, oppose, or sit on the sidelines - the church we know, have worked so hard to grow and maintain, has been so important to us, and indeed which we love so much - that church is about to disappear, must disappear - and there is nothing we can do about it or should be able to do about it. As a statement of objective emotionless fact - the generations that come after us will re-create church in ways that will have little to do with church as it has existed since the end of WWII and even less with church as it has existed since the early 19th-century "Great Awakening" revival that birthed the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and other denominations. Do not be surprised when the future church finds it can exist only by abandoning and demolishing the structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions of the 200-year-old American church in all its denominational and independent expressions, colors, sounds, textures, architecture, rituals, liturgies, and self-righteous self-assuredness. Do not be surprised when this abandonment and demolition is completed with no sense of sadness and no sense of loss. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has been completed just in time to be abandoned.

There is no pleasure in being the last of your kind, a breed on the verge of extinction. However, the WWII "Greatest Generation" and their "Baby Boomer" kids will not leave quietly and not without generating rippling resonating repercussions as they pass into memory. We have been faithful generous tithers and - most dangerously and in a final fit of useless spite and exasperation - we will continue to support the church after we are gone. We are wealthy generations who have retained lawyers to write wills that are specific and enforceable. The problem for future lawyers, judges, CPAs, and juries will be how to allocate funds for a church that is closed, abandoned, or demolished. They will have few or no options for diverting those funds to a living congregation or a worthwhile project. Already, we can see that the generations who follow us do not tithe to churches. They support specific projects and missions. Unlike us, they do not want their giving to be for slogans and annual reports and push pins on a map. They want projects and missions that are tangible, immediate, and - most important - participatory. Where we gave strictly of our wealth, these next generations will give of themselves - of their time, talent, labor, and presence - as well as their treasure.

At the forefront of the church demolition will be recent college graduates, college students and the high school students that will follow them. They will abandon (are abandoning) Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, and congregational events as well as mainstream campus ministries, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and any Christian organization that values exclusion over inclusion or has any hint of structural rigidity, hierarchical authority, membership requirements, or dogmatic rejection of or does not live the theology of universal justice and compassion infused with divine love and grace.

Expensive specific-purpose church structures will be replaced with the use of former stores, abandoned theatres, rented warehouses, and individual homes. The traditional Sunday morning worship will diminish and be replaced by conversations in food courts and bars and coffee shops, studies in quiet places inside and outdoors, meditational Taize gatherings, loud Praise concerts, other worship experiences yet to be created - all arranged through social media and sometimes occurring more as a flash mob experience than a scheduled service. Future church will occur while flowing with the stream of life, not alongside or outside of it as a stationary event.

The seminary/ordination track as well as clergy as a profession and calling will be vastly different from what it is now, if it exists at all. There is no justification for ministerial candidates having to bear the crushing burden of a 5-digit (6-digit?) school loan to earn the formal label/prefix "Rev." and to be eligible for employment in a shrinking system and a disappearing paradigm. The concept of clergy will not be reformed, it will be so revolutionized as to be re-created. Future clergy will see themselves as scholars and counselors and project/mission managers and will reject calls to be church/congregational CEOs or mega-entrepreneurs. Clergy will find that their calling includes a responsibility to freely and openly share their formal studies. Denominations that currently have multiple seminaries will collapse them into one. Some denominations will find it necessary to join together to form a cooperative organization to support a single ecumenical seminary. Many seminaries will disappear. One possibility is that ministerial candidates, from the beginning of their education, will serve a sponsoring and supportive congregation. Seminary scholars representing the various necessary ministerial disciplines will hold regional classes or, when the technology becomes inexpensively ubiquitous, hold synchronous video conferences.

A major contributing factor to the clerical revolution will be public access to church knowledge. In an age of Wiki sites, there is no justification for the Catholic church or any denomination or any church institution to have secret archives or to have historical documents or ancient biblical texts hidden from public view. Every document, every scroll, every parchment fragment must be scanned, indexed, hyperlinked, and its high-resolution digital image placed on-line within a single web site. The biblical texts, both Jewish and Christian and regardless of whether they are currently considered canonical, must be on-line and referenced to a source document or source documents as well as being referenced to differing source documents. What will be paperless is not the office, it will be knowledge.

One of the identifying marks of living The Way is fearlessness. In this context, it means not being afraid to die and not being afraid to live. This article is neither a vision nor a prediction, neither a warning nor an advocating. It is a call to the church to move confidently into the future and to fearlessly embrace and enable its coming death and resurrection and transformation and new life.

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Technology Postscript: As on-line conferencing and smart-phone/tablet technologies improve and take advantage of increasing transmission rates and bandwidth, virtual worship and gatherings will be normal, common, and expected. As the virtual world is populated and utilized, the realization will slowly sink in that while virtual connections are immediate and easy and global, virtual connections are better at enhancing human disconnectedness than creating human presence and are better at amplifying loneliness than creating community. At some point, it will be generally recognized that virtual connections are an inadequate and invalid replacement for the connections we form when we are in the presence of each other. No matter how much we tweet, text, Facebook, email, YouTube, or Skype - at some point we have to see each other in the same physical space, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. We relate best when our mutual presence is tangible and accessible. Personally and communally as well as psychologically and technologically, at some point the virtual connection will be deemed unacceptable and generally harmful and best reserved for situations that are emergencies or physically remote or both. We will have to discover that pixels and bits are always inferior to hugs and prayer circles.

...and that will be the next transformation.