Prophetic Priests, Priestly Prophets

Prophetic Priests, Priestly Prophets

In my work as a pastor, I often felt an inescapable tension between the “priestly” and “prophetic” dimensions of my calling.  To simplify a bit: Priests help us with our relationship with God, while prophets call us to reflect our relationship with God in our relationships with other people, with culture, and with the systems and structures of society. The primary locations of a priest are the sanctuary, the hospital, nursing homes, prisons, gravesides, counseling offices, living rooms, front porches, and restaurants where conversations about life’s challenges unfold over a shared meal. Priests listen more than they talk; and, when they do speak, they use the language of prayer and blessing. The primary locations of a prophet are the streets, city hall, the county courthouse, community centers, media outlets, creative studios where art and music are made, and board rooms. Prophets show up anywhere decisions are made or opinions are shaped that affect the common good. Prophets spend a great deal of time in discernment and analysis; and, when they speak, they mainly question what is and describe what could and should be. While the priest’s work is primarily within the church and the prophet’s focus is most often beyond it, we’re living in times when these distinctions are breaking down.  “Out there”—in public realms—a pastor will find many people, not necessarily connected with a church, who yearn for the listening, guiding, and healing ministry of a priest. They long to be heard, to have their spiritual needs taken seriously, and to have someone help them honor the surprises of the sacred that appear in their experience. “In here”—in...
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;...
A New Year’s Revolution

A New Year’s Revolution

Recently I read the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  ­I’m a neat and well-organized person, so I mostly wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I thought I might glean a new tip or two, but I didn’t expect any major revelations.  I am happy to report that I was wrong. For Kondo, tidying and organizing is the way to restore balance among people, their possessions, and the places that they live.  Her premise is that, with very few exceptions (like essential documents), we should only own things that bring us joy. Period.  She asserts, and I agree, that our homes and lives are often cluttered with things that we “might use some day” like clothes that don’t quite fit, books and gadgets, or things that we feel obligated to keep such as gifts, souvenirs, and mementos. She instructs readers to gather all similar items (such as all your books or all of clothes) in one place, pick each item up, and determine if it brings you joy.  If so, you keep it.  If not, you toss it or give it away.  Hesitancy or uncertainty over an item indicates that it should go. I decided to try her method on my clothes. My closets were not over-full, but I was amazed at how much I could easily part with, how practical it was to organize per her instructions, and how freeing the process was.  I was delighted to discover that I felt better with fewer things I truly enjoyed in a (more) organized space....
What is a Recombobulation Area?!

What is a Recombobulation Area?!

I’ve seen a lot of unusual things, people and events in airports. It takes something special to get a reaction from me. Recently, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. In fact, I took a photo (above) of the sign just to be sure I was seeing what I thought I saw. It took place in the Milwaukee Airport, just past the point where everyone goes through security. Above a few benches was a sign that read: Recombobulation Area.  Really. On a permanent, installed sign. I chuckled, and then laughed out loud. Recombobulation: a word I had never seen or heard before. However, I knew immediately what it meant and my laughter was my way of saying “thank God for such an area!”  Sure enough, I watched as men, women and children stumbled out of the security area with belts, shoes, phones, and all sorts of other belongings in disarray. A recombobulation area proved to be exactly what was needed after the discombobulation they had just endured. Recombobulation accurately described the individuals and families I watched put themselves back together after being dis-assembled in the security line. The dictionary says that to discombobulate someone is “To confuse or disconcert, to upset, to frustrate.”  Clearly, that is the way many people feel about going through the rigors of airport security. Actually, that is an apt description of the state of mind that I find in many congregations. They are discombobulated by the challenges of being a local church in the 21st century. Methods, programs and ideas that worked for decades now prove ineffective. It’s confusing to live in...
Is It Post-Christendom Yet?

Is It Post-Christendom Yet?

It was one of lines you read in a book and then say to yourself, “Well, of course that’s true, but I’ve never realized it until now.” It came from one of the thousands of “post-modernity/post-Christendom” books that scream at us to read them before our congregation’s heart finally gives out. The author of the book is of a different theological stripe than I am.  I wasn’t looking for theological confirmation; rather, I wanted to hear what the church looks like to someone who sees it from a different vantage point than my own. The sentence was not the main point the author was trying to make in that particular chapter.  He may have even thought of it as filler.  But it hit me with the force of a Zen koan: “We have to remember that postmodernity does not reach every location in the United States at the same time.” Boom! See what I mean?  See how immediately self-evident the sentence is?  There are parts of America where the church has lived in a post-Christendom context for decades.  There are parts of the country where Christendom still reigns supreme.  Other churches live in communities all the way along the spectrum between those two extremes. And yet many of us act as if the opposite were true.  We act as if every church in America struggles with post-Christendom in exactly the same way.  That’s why we keep reading all those books but come away from them feeling uninspired.  We dive into them thinking that the author is talking about a church just like ours.  Truth be told, that is almost...
On Retirement

On Retirement

I admit it – I am anal.  A classic “Type A.”  I’ve tested as a conscientious personality style, the characteristics of which include: not resting until the job is done and done right, working hard to do well, and loving to work and be challenged.  If there were a club for those least likely to retire early I would be a charter member. Last May, however, I retired at 63 and haven’t regretted it a day. In order to make this transition, I started thinking about retirement eight years ago.  Two factors weighed on me.  First, I knew I wouldn’t be happy in retirement without something meaningful to do.  Finding something to fulfill me in my post-pastor chapter of life could not wait until the day after my last Sunday.  Second, my love for the congregation would not allow me to walk away from the pastorate with a large amount of unfinished business (there’s the conscientious personality trait rearing it’s head).  If I had hopes of retiring I had to know what I could do for personal fulfillment and I had to know what God needed me to do in the church I served.  I could not discover these two things overnight; they required much prayer and work.  Eight years seemed a workable timeframe, so at 57, I began a journey of spiritual discernment. I “tried out” a few paths to personal fulfillment.  Some did not satisfy, including training as a mediator.  I also created a website where I could author in small doses to see if writing would be gratifying.  That experiment worked.  Leadership coaching already provided significant...
The Practice of Warming

The Practice of Warming

I love this time of year, don’t you? Even though the days are getting shorter, I love the cool, crisp air and the changing colors of fall. It’s nice cutting the AC down at home. Pleasant evenings find Cindy and me sitting in the backyard around a crackling fire reminiscing. I’ve even noticed that Cindy and I are sleeping a bit closer together!  I’m reminded of a verse in Ecclesiastes: “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”  Over the years in pastoral ministry, it has been a privilege to counsel couples in preparation for marriage. Often I asked them to tell me exactly what it is that they cherish about each other. They would tell stories of how they first met, where they were for their first kiss, and other fond remembrances. I would be careful to write it down. I would then weave their words into the homily for their wedding day. Afterwards I would give them a copy, urging them to read those words again when times get tough. And, you know like I do, times always get tough. There comes a day in almost every relationship when we are so far from one another that the relationship gets cold. And it is then that we need to WARM one another. It’s not just true in marriages, but in most any relationship—friends, neighbors, co-workers. It’s true also in churches. Marital therapist, John Gottman, writes: “Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. Although happily married couples may feel driven to distraction at times by their partner’s personality, they...
Sanded Glass Churches

Sanded Glass Churches

On our family beach trip this past summer, our grandchildren discovered sea glass. For our five preschoolers, it was like finding treasure. In fact, that’s what they called it: “let’s go find some more treasures!” You probably know that the pieces of sea glass we found are fragments of old bottles or containers that have been sanded smooth and frosty by the wave action and the power of friction with sand and stones. While the physics of that process are lost on the kids, there is no denying their admiration for the end product. Each day we would walk the shoreline looking carefully and (sometimes) patiently looking for sea glass. We were on the shore in Connecticut, and the pieces were small and relatively rare. Each discovery was announced by a yelp or shrill shout of “Look, there’s one!!” During the week, we accumulated a nice collection for display. No doubt, we will add to it in the years to come. I thought about our sanded glass experience in recent weeks, as I have watched people in churches wrestle with being and doing faith life in the 21st century. Some sanded glass observations: Sanded glass started out as a common beverage container that has been gradually transformed into something new. Each of those glass shards had to go through a metamorphosis to become this new entity. Pounded by the waves and roiled in the sand and stones, the ordinary glass becomes something very different. Some sanded glass becomes beautiful artwork or jewelry. Others are put on display. What was taken for granted originally becomes something that is treasured and...
Where Do We Go From Here: Moving forward in the post-election season

Where Do We Go From Here: Moving forward in the post-election season

Tracy Hartman CHC Coach Here we are a week post-election, and now, as many have stated, the real work begins. Here are three ways we can begin to bring healing and unity to our churches and communities in the days ahead. Pray for our local, state, and national leaders, both in our private devotional lives and in our corporate worship.  The author of I Timothy writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,” (I Tim 2:1-3) Whether we are pleased or distraught by the outcome of local and national elections, this is a clear mandate. We may find it difficult to pray for leaders that we ardently disagree with, those that we may have campaigned against, or those we fear may persecute us (or at the very least not work in the best interest of those we care about). But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has strong words for us about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.There is good reason for this mandate: it is hard to despise someone we are praying for diligently. Whether we approve of them or not, our leaders are deeply loved by God, and governing is a difficult job under the best of circumstances. All elected officials need and are worthy of our prayers James Dunn notes that the early Christian church was not an...
Learn by Going

Learn by Going

Dear Friends, I’m writing you to invite you to join us at Disney World in 2017 for a great immersive learning experience for church leaders (both laypeople and professionals). I consider the inaugural Disney-based event, “Hospitality and Creativity,” to have been a great success and we’re working hard to make this event even better when we return to Orlando January 30 – February 2, 2017. This is not a thinly veiled tourist trip to Disney World disguised as “professional development,” but an intentional exploration of how to engage the diverse populations that walk through our doors in meaningful and creative ways. Disney has spent millions of dollars understanding what makes a positive interaction with individuals and families and creating the standard by which customer service is measured. I firmly believe those insights can have a significant impact on the way churches understand the ways in which they interact with their congregations and communities. We will be using the Disney World theme parks as an immersive learning opportunity for exploring how we might develop and foster a culture of intentional hospitality and creative thinking within churches. Led by a former Disney Institute professional and author of The Wonderful World of Disney Customer Service, this experience includes: – An in-depth exploration of Disney Hospitality,  Customer Service, and Creativity – Two partial days in Walt Disney World experiencing hospitality and creativity first-hand -A private, behind-the-scenes tour led by Walt Disney World staff -Free time to spend in the park on your own -Practical discussions and learning about Christian hospitality. How can we better engage and minister to those in our communities? -What Does...