The Stranger in Our Midst

The Stranger in Our Midst

Virtually every church I know, if asked to describe itself, would use words like friendly, caring and welcoming. Not every new person who comes their way would use those same words. While churches are not hostile to newcomers, many of them are unaware of the coolness that belies our intended warmth toward the stranger in our midst. While churches want to be friendly, they often lack the intentionality required to generate that reality. When I started seminary, my family and I moved to a new city, and thus, to a new congregation. There was a church less than a half mile from our home. How convenient. On seventeen (17) different Sundays we participated in Sunday School and worship. We enjoyed the sermons, the music, the opportunities for our elementary aged children, and we had a good SS teacher. Hardly anyone spoke to us. No one in SS ever called us by name, though we worked to learn theirs. We introduced ourselves to the pastor all 17 Sundays. He seemed to never recall who we were. After five months of feeling ignored, we decided to try to find a new church home. We ventured downtown to a much larger church and quickly made the assumption that we might be ‘swallowed up’ in such a big congregation. As we left worship that day, the pastor was greeting folks at the door. When we got there, he knelt down to talk with our children. Impressive. After a time, he stood and greeted us. On Wednesday, a hand-written note from the pastor arrived in the mail. We went back the next Sunday, and...
I Beg to Differ

I Beg to Differ

When Dr. Bill Wilson asked me to join him and others as he was founding the Center for Healthy Churches, he explained that the main focus of our work was to be four-fold: visioning, pastoral transitions, staff development and conflict engagement. While honored by his invitation, I told him I wanted no part of the ‘conflict’ work. He has recruited other folks who do that kind of work, and they do it well. But the truth is that no one of us and no church can escape conflict altogether. It happens in business when partners disagree. It happens in sports where players and coaches dispute the call of a referee or umpire. It happens in our families when there are misunderstandings. It happens when teachers at school assign a grade someone thinks is unfair. It happens when there is an accident and everyone points at someone else. It happens in Congress when ideologies clash over policy. Much of what takes place in court rooms is born out of conflict, and lawyers are paid large sums to help their clients win a settlement. With due respect to those who make a living in the practice of law, my dad used to say “If we didn’t have the first lawyer, we would not have needed the second one; but once you get yours, I have to get mine.” What he was saying is that we need someone who knows the system to argue our case for us. No one ever wants to lose in a dispute or conflict. Our son-in-law practiced law for seventeen years. He did a lot of good...
The Health Care Crisis in Churches

The Health Care Crisis in Churches

I don’t know when it began, but the move to shift the cost of benefits from churches to ministers has unfolded at an alarming rate. The driver of all of this is rapidly escalating health care cost, namely health insurance. What was once a staple benefit for most employees is quickly eroding in the American workplace. The US Congress is fully aware of the problem, which is why a few years back they passed the bi-partisan Affordable Care Act. The ACA provides the opportunity to purchase health care benefits for millions of previously uninsured adults and children. President-elect Trump has promised to repeal the ACA his first day in office. Latest reports indicate that it will, in fact, be repealed; but the repeal will be delayed for some years until they can figure out what to do in its place. Meanwhile, far too many ministers are left twisting in the wind wondering how they will provide health care for themselves and their families. Last month I asked some churches to share with me just how they went about providing these benefits. Of the 42 churches that responded, the results were all over the spectrum of possibilities from churches that still offer full family coverage for all ministers to one church that noted ‘we just decided to get out of the insurance business’. Inequities abound. Influencing where a church is on the spectrum are a myriad of forces. Primary among them are shrinking church finances. While loathe to cut missions, church programs and salaries, and while required to pay property and casualty insurance as well as utility and building costs;...
When Trust Is Lost…What Then?

When Trust Is Lost…What Then?

In a recent article, CHC Ministry Partner David Brubaker, Associate Professor at Eastern Mennonite University, wrote: “Trust in our institutions-and in institutional leaders-is crumbling. Put simply, our society and our world are changing much too rapidly for our institutions to keep pace. As a result, many view our great institutions of the 20th century as incompetent at best and corrupt at worst. Religious institutions are no exception.” The list of examples seems endless. Major universities have been charged with everything from sex abuse cover ups to awarding degrees for academic work not done. Two major drug companies have been found guilty of egregious price-gouging, especially on drugs sold to the poorest among us. The integrity of all of the wonderful people in law enforcement has been called into question because of the many deaths of unarmed persons at the hands of the police. Even after the financial crisis of 2008 and all the controls put on financial institutions, banks have been found to have engaged in fraudulent practices, even for their best customers. Many media outlets drive agendas rather than ‘report’ the news. And the current political season reminds us all that truth and trust are rare commodities indeed. As Brubaker noted, the church is not exempt. The most public scandal for the church is the cover up of priestly sexual abuse in the Catholic church. But it goes much further than that among Protestant congregations. Ministers caught in extramarital affairs or pornography addictions or financial chicanery all serve to question the trustworthiness of all other ministers. But even these salacious events are not the sole cause for lost...
How Much Is Enough?

How Much Is Enough?

Each story below is true. The names of the churches and ministers have been changed to avoid embarrassment. Ryan was coming out of seminary back in the 1980s. He had interviewed with Cornerstone Church to be the Assistant Pastor. When asked by the pastor what he ‘needed’ by way of compensation (which by the way is a grossly unfair question), Ryan, thinking of his wife and children, answered, “I have to have $25,000.” Assured that that was no problem, he accepted the call to the church. Examining his first paycheck two weeks into his new job, he was baffled at how little the ‘take home’ amount was. Sure that there was a mistake, he went to the pastor to get it corrected. The pastor must have known the question was coming. He said, “$24,000 was as close as we could get.” Pulling a 3×5 notecard from his pocket, he handed it to Ryan. The card said: Salary & Housing, $20,000 and Benefits, $3,900, a total of $23,900. The reality is that Ryan got a salary $5,000 or 20% less than he was promised. Why do churches do this? In 2014, Evan interviewed with a small church with limited resources. He liked the people and saw a lot of hope in the congregation of Chapel in the Pines. They told him his salary would be $40,000. With his wife working full time, they felt they could meet all of their needs for them and their growing family of three children. Evan assumed that benefits were on top of the $40,000. In a subsequent conversation with chair of the search committee,...