Is your church making you healthy or sick?

Is your church making you healthy or sick?

When our grandson was 10 months old, he underwent a medical emergency. His immune system was compromised and his body was under assault from an infection. He needed immediate treatment and the diagnosis called for him to receive intravenous immunoglobulin. This is a concentrated dose of antibodies, extracted from blood plasma, which helped his body fight off the illness. Within 48 hours, his high fever and other symptoms responded to the treatment, and he came through that traumatic experience in good health. In talking with the doctors and nurses during his hospital stay, I learned that one dose of immunoglobulin is derived from the donated blood of more than 1,000 blood donors. This collection of antibodies from the donated blood provides what the patient’s body cannot: defense against infection. As we marveled at the efficiency of the treatment, the knowledge of the medical professionals, and the healing touch of God’s providential love, I came away struck by how congregations provide much of the same hope and healing for one another. Despite our illusions, none of us are capable of living the life God has called us to alone.  We all need someone, some group, some community to help us fulfill God’s dream for our life. We may be extraordinarily gifted, wealthy, wise, self-sufficient and independent, but in the end, it will not be enough. There will be a day, if there has not been already, when you will come to a point where you cannot stand alone. Our grandson benefited from hundreds of people donating their blood so that others could be blessed their healthy blood. The extraction of...
Preaching from the Purple Pulpit

Preaching from the Purple Pulpit

Except in very rare cases, there is always a bit of tension between a pastor and his/her congregation when it comes to preaching, especially prophetic preaching. We all know a few congregations where a liberal pastor and liberal congregation seem to be perfectly matched.  We also know a few conservative churches where the same is true.  But we also know how few and far between such perfect matches are, and we suspect that even those pastors hear from an angry parishioner at the back door of the church every once in a while. For most of us who preach, however, the context is quite different.  We preach in congregations that some are calling “purple” churches: neither all “red” (conservative) or all “blue” (liberal).  We preach to pews filled with Republicans and Democrats, with a sprinkling of Independents and Libertarians added in. This inherent tension between pulpit and pew has escalated dramatically in some churches over the last few weeks as the Trump administration has begun to implement its agenda. Some congregations – and pastors – are already showing signs of being stretched to the breaking point. The question many of us who are pastors find ourselves asking is, “How do I do this?  How do I engage the issues the Spirit has laid on my heart and maintain my relationship with these people I love … even if I disagree with them sometimes?” There is, of course, no “one size fits all” answer to these questions.  Every pastor finds him/herself in a unique context and will have to balance many factors in play in that particular congregation. There are, however, some...
Pastor: A Unique, Contextual Calling

Pastor: A Unique, Contextual Calling

While searching for a particular volume in my library, another book caught my attention. The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, is an inspiring autobiographical account of what it means to be called to pastoral ministry and to live out that vocation in a unique community. This book has inspired me to reaffirm my calling with fresh perspective. While Peterson is known to many primarily for his popular Bible translation called The Message, his most significant contribution to my world has been his writings about pastoral work.  Years ago I read three of Peterson’s books about pastoral ministry:  Five Smooth Stones of Pastoral Work, The Contemplative Pastor, and Under the Unpredictable Plant.  In a church world that looks to the pastor to be the CEO, a chaplain-on-demand, or an ecclesial entrepreneur, Peterson reminds ministers and churches that a pastor is more like a spiritual director, a “soul friend” who walks alongside others pointing out what God is doing in their life. In a fast paced world, where a competitive consumerist culture has invaded the church, pastors are often expected to be an idealistic combination of captivating motivational speaker, savvy executive/administrator, and extraordinary counselor.  But the call to be a pastor is unique.  There is no other vocation like it. Veteran pastor Hardy Clemons reminds us that the church is to be “more family than corporation.”  Clemons reminds pastors and churches of their peculiar mission: Our goal is to minister: it is not to show a profit, amass a larger financial corpus or grow bigger for our own security. The ultimate goals are to accept God’s grace, share the good...
BEing the Church

BEing the Church

Not long ago, a friend asked the question “When is a time you felt lonely, confused, hurt, or angry, and it was the church the saved or helped you?”  As I considered my answer to this question, several memories came to mind: The day that we had a miscarriage and our pastor and their spouse came to our house and held our hands and cried with us.  They didn’t try to say the right thing.  They hugged us, cried with us, told us how sorry they were and how sad it was.  Then they went and bought dinner and brought it back to the house for us. The day my brother died – I was living 2,000 miles away and my husband was traveling home from out of the country and was unreachable.  A good friend just happened to call me minutes after I got the call about my brother.  When I told her what had just happened, she stayed on the phone with me for over an hour, and she and her husband helped me make the travel arrangements to get us across the continent, including arranging for a car for us once our flight landed. When going through a particularly difficult time with a child, a friend texted with dates for us to choose from when she would stay with our kids and give us a night away. When our preschooler broke his arm, we arrived home from the hospital to a couple from our church waiting on us with dinner for our family. Upon learning that we had just received devastating news, our pastor drove until...
Dr. Joel Snider to Join CHC Consultant Team

Dr. Joel Snider to Join CHC Consultant Team

The Center for Healthy Churches (CHChurches.org) is pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Joel Snider to its team of consultants. Snider retired in 2016 after 40 years in active ministry, and spent the last 21 years as pastor of First Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia. Joel has an active coaching practice with a wide variety of clients, including ministers, small business owners, and financial planners.  In his work with CHC, Joel will focus on creating a faith development ministry with young families and churches, in addition to consulting for minister search committees and congregational health. With a Ph.D. in preaching, Joel is also available to coach those who want to grow in their preaching skills.   Joel serves as chair of the board of Directors for the Community Foundation for Greater Rome and is a member of the Floyd County Hospital Authority.  He and his wife, Cherry, have two two daughters and 3 grandchildren. He is currently working on a resource for parenting entitled, Seven Conversations to Change Your Family. CHC Director Bill Wilson says: “Joel Snider represents the kind of pastor I think of when I think of a healthy church and a healthy pastoral leader. His track record shows how his intellect and insights have been translated into effective and meaningful ministry.  I am so pleased that we will be able to offer his wisdom and leadership to a national audience.” Snider said: “I believe in the church, and I am pleased to partner with CHC as an organization that supports congregational ministry and shares common values about leadership style and healthy relationships.” The addition of this new service...
Creatively Outrageous Congregations

Creatively Outrageous Congregations

I recently heard an interview with George Lois, a leader in the advertising world in the 1950’s who helped revolutionize the industry. His innovations transformed advertising and made several of his clients into household names. I found his comments about creativity both interesting and applicable to modern congregational life. Lois’ defining statement about creativity is that it can solve almost any problem. “The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. And I really believe that. What I try to teach young people, or anybody in any creative field, is that every idea should seemingly be outrageous.” His thoughts resonate with what we are learning about congregations that not only survive but thrive in the 21st century. Let’s think about two of them. “The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.” Every congregation must manage the polarity of traditional habits and originality. We live somewhere along a continuum between the two. Habits are both gift and curse to the follower of Christ. Our habits define us and give our life structure and depth. Conversely, our habits can blind us to new thoughts and growth that require a break in our routines. Congregations desperately need to provide an anchor in the lives of people who find themselves caught up in overwhelming change. Having a place that worships an unchanging God and stands as a reminder of what really matters is a fine role for a church. However, worshiping an unchanging God does not mean congregations are to worship an unchanging methodology. Those that do are cursed by sameness. Such congregations are apt to be trapped in...
Pebbles in Your Pocket

Pebbles in Your Pocket

By the time you read this, the “peaceful transition of power,” one of the hallmarks of our democracy, will be in process or will have occurred. New leaders bring new ideas and policies which elicit both hope and fear. William Bridges defines a time of transition as an ending followed by a period of “lostness and emptiness” before life resumes an intelligible pattern and direction. Transitions bring out the best and worst in humans. Like the old worry stone you could carry around in your pocket to rub to soothe your concerns, I would offer a few “pebbles” worth carrying in your pocket during this transition. Christina Baldwin’s book, The Seven Whispers, is a collection of spiritual practices for our time focusing on seven meditative phrases. In this article, I pass along three of these as invitations to your spirit and points of orientation for you and the faith community you belong to, if the way ahead is not clear. Move at the Pace of Guidance. In a fast-moving world, awash with distractions, living at the pace of guidance invites us to combine the practices of “measured movement and listening.” When we move at the pace of guidance we take time to listen and question before moving on. Moving at this pace slows us long enough to wonder where God is and what God may have for us contrasted against what we have decided for ourselves. Moving fast can cancel out guidance which can smother spirit. When spirit is starved for oxygen our ego takes over. Today’s news is a running commentary on when ego is in the driver’s...
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....