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...
Pushing People to Purpose

Pushing People to Purpose

When Gil Rendle speaks, I listen. He’s been a pastor, author, and consultant. Now retired, his work has inspired me and given voice to much of what I see and feel is happening in congregations. He “gets it”, in a way that too many experts do not. His book, Doing the Math of Mission, ought to be required reading for every congregational leader in America. In a recent interview he describes his work this way: “we need to be adamant about pushing people to purpose. What’s the purpose that is behind that which you are trying to do? And if you can align yourself with that purpose, we’re really convinced that there is so much energy there.” “Pushing people to purpose” may well be the best description of local church leadership that I have heard in a long time. It is how Jesus started his teaching ministry in Matthew 6 when he declared to the crowds that pursuing temporal things and activities would blind them to the real reason God created them. Only when we “seek first the kingdom and his righteousness” will we discover the divine ordering of things in life. Our team of consultants/coaches calls this the “Why question”. Nearly all of our invitations into a congregation or minister’s life begin with a “what” or a “how” question. “What do we do about this staff vacancy?” “What is the best method for planning, or teaching, or worship music, etc.?” “How do we budget?” “How do we call a pastor?” “What should I/we do about this opportunity?” We constantly push a staff, congregation, or leadership group toward the “why” question...
Are we a movement or a program?

Are we a movement or a program?

For the last half of the 20th century in America, local churches functioned as programmatic centers of activity. Embedded in a supportive churched and Christian culture, their role was to provide offerings that inspired, entertained and educated those who chose to attend. Those who attended a local church tended to look alike racially and socio-economically. They were the “good people” in the community. Churches knew their place in the social order. They were the privileged majority, with Sundays and Wednesdays reserved for their activities. They benefited from their status and their employees were accorded a place of authority and respect in the community. Attractive buildings and professionally trained staff were important, as attenders had many options to choose from when it came to churches. Denominational headquarters churned out a vast array of material, themes, and conferences that reinforced and dictated local church programs. Extensive training at multiple levels was provided to assure the purchase and implementation of denominational curriculum and emphases. Denominational staff members were superstars who were accorded immediate respect and status. The system was funded by local churches, which were expected to funnel larger and larger amounts of money up the economic food chain to support missions or various ministries. The seeds of the demise of the programmatic era of local church life were sown in the 1960’s. Cultural norms regarding race and sex began a season of societal upheaval that continues today. The Vietnam War and the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King signaled a brokenness about our culture that was undeniable. Trust in institutions and leaders began to steadily erode. Though it...
When a Traditional Choir Partners with a Non-profit

When a Traditional Choir Partners with a Non-profit

How could your church’s adult choir do what it does best and serve your community well?  What kind of partnership would allow you to offer your gift of music and support another ministry or non-profit?  What sort of collaboration might benefit both your singers and someone not usually in your normal Sunday morning congregation? Wilshire Baptist Church is proud to host the offices of the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas. The center offers support groups for children, teens and adults. GLC also provides on site grief support for schools, faith communities and places of employment. Clients don’t have to worry about the cost. There is no charge for any services. About five years ago I heard an extraordinary new work, “Eternal Light: A Requiem” by Howard Goodall  written for soloists, choir and orchestra.  Known primarily as a British TV and film composer; fans of the BBC comedy, The Vicar of Dibley, may recognize “Psalm 23,” the charming theme music that opens the show. Goodall’s requiem premiered in London in 2008.  This “Requiem for the living, [addresses] their suffering and endurance, a Requiem focusing on the consequences of interrupted lives”. When thinking about what strategic musical partnership might captivate our singers’ interest for the spring of 2016, I met with Laurie Taylor, Executive Director of the Grief and Loss Center, to discuss a partnership. When I discovered the GLC was celebrating its fifth anniversary, a real milestone for any non-profit, we began to explore how we could create an event with music as the centerpiece.  We planned to invite the clients of the Grief and Loss Center as...
Our Specialty Is…

Our Specialty Is…

One of my favorite restaurant chains is Rosa Mexicano. It is not one of the order-by-number kind of Mexican restaurants, but a fancier kind of Mexican restaurant; the “bring around the cart and make the guacamole at your table” kind of place. At Rosa Mexicano, when the waitress/waiter comes to your table, they ask if you are familiar with their menu and then always, and I do mean always, say, “We are known for a few specialties I will point out for you. Our drink specialty is our pomegranate margarita and our appetizer specialty is our guacamole which is made table-side to your preferences.” Part of this is just smart business. If you order both of the specialties, you have already added around $25 to your food bill! I am not sure how they decided these would be their “specialties” but by drawing attention to them, everyone who comes in knows immediately what they consider to be the best they have to offer. Scientists tell us that in an eco-system where resources have become scarce, all living things become more specialized. Herds with many common traits all begin to live and feed in areas best suited for their uniqueness. There are not enough resources, so their tastes change in the foods they eat. This keeps too many from one species from competing for one food or water source. It becomes their specialty, the difference that allows them to continue living. It is called the “competitive exclusion principle”, which states “no two species of similar requirements can long occupy the same niche (coexist).” A study was done with a group...

The High Cost of Self-Preservation

A young pastor was recently recounting the events that led to his dismissal. Throughout the painful ordeal, he had relied upon a small group of spiritually mature trusted advisers to help him navigate the uncertainties he faced. As events unfolded, he was devastated to discover that one of those advisers had actually conspired with others to bring about his eventual dismissal. His trusted adviser was guilty of distorting facts and revealing confidences. The betrayal and abandonment made an already hurtful situation even more so.   What happened? How did someone who seemed to have a deep faith stoop to such inappropriate behavior? There is no simple explanation, but I suspect that part of what happened is that the stress of the situation led this person to act out an agenda of self-preservation.   When stress escalates, congregations and ministers are often surprised to find people reverting to decidedly un-Christian behavior. As a pastor, I marveled, and sometimes grieved, these phenomena. When under duress, people move toward self-preservation and safety at all costs.   It’s actually a valuable part of our human nature. Self-preservation keeps us alive when our instincts kick in and we jump out of the way of a speeding car, or duck to avoid a low-hanging branch. Self-preservation is wired into our brains for good reasons.   One of the glories of being a created in the image of God, of course, is that we are invited to live at a higher level than instincts or feelings. We can move from simple self-preservation to a self-giving care for others. The Biblical story is, at its heart, the...