Watching the Future Emerge Together

Watching the Future Emerge Together

I am fascinated by the things that turn out to have retro appeal. People warn you not to get rid of your old clothes (the classic case being bellbottom jeans), “because they’re sure to come back in style again.” The whole business model for the cable channel Nick at Night was based on assumptions about the retro appeal of old cartoons and sitcoms to a new generation of children.  Technologies developed for Baby Boomers turn out to fascinate Gen Xers and Millennials. In The Postmodern Parish, I wrote about the first time I saw someone with a new Polaroid camera.  Although I couldn’t have imagined it at the time I wrote that passage, Polaroids are now experiencing a comeback. The cameras and film are being manufactured again, and young adults flock around this “old school” technology in the same way some younger music lovers now prefer vinyl over digital downloads. I remember how exciting it was to watch the image emerge on that first Polaroid picture.  As soon as the picture was taken, a completely blank piece of photographic paper shot out of the bottom of the camera.  As you watched, the yellow part of the image appeared on the paper, then the red part.  Finally, the blue portion emerged, and you could make out the whole image clearly. We are in a “Polaroid” era in the life of the church.  We all sense that the Holy Spirit is revealing new ways for churches to be faithful in our rapidly shifting American cultural landscape: showing us new “images” of what a post-Christendom congregation looks like. Our problem is that...
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...
Pastoral Care: Ministering to the pastor

Pastoral Care: Ministering to the pastor

Have you ever been in a church whose pastor resigned to leave the ministry? It’s an unsettling proposition for all involved. Yet, too often, it is the congregation itself that bears the blame. The Schaeffer Institute, in a study of American clergy, has written that 1700 or so pastors leave ministry each month. They add that 50% of ministers starting out will not last 5 years. As a coach and consultant, I spend a fairly significant portion of my work with pastors who are feeling frustrated, demotivated, or even defeated. Some experience these feelings as a sense of failure. Others are discouraged by a seemingly never ending stream of complaints or criticisms. It’s not that they don’t get recognized for the things that they do well. It isn’t that the majority of feedback from the congregation is negative. Generally, it is not. But what can lead to burn-out and a sense of defeat, is when the pastor feels that there is always someone unhappy about something. Part of the problem is simple human nature. On the one hand, we tend to take for granted the things that we like, or the things that are working for us. Our minds more often drift to what’s uncomfortable or what isn’t happening the way that we would like. On the other hand, people called to ministry are people who are, by their nature, sensitive to the needs of others and their own ability to impact people positively. As a group, they often discount compliments as doing nothing more than what they expect of themselves; while focusing on critical feedback as a sign...
Falling Forward

Falling Forward

Three weeks ago, my life changed in an instant.  One unfortunate misstep landed me in the hospital with a badly damaged foot.  The next day, an orthopedic surgeon reset my bones, but for me, the real work is just beginning.  My new reality is a fall season spent in splints, casts, walking boots and physical therapy.  My new goals are to wear a shoe and be driving by Christmas. A friend who dropped by to visit asked me a great question.  “You are an educator,” he said.  “What are you learning from this experience?”  I am learning many lessons and I realized that some of those lessons just might be applicable to institutions that find themselves in the midst of an unexpected difficulty. Any number of events, from the unexpected departure of a staff member (especially if impropriety or controversy is involved) to an expensive and unbudgeted repair to an aging facility can throw a church or non-profit organization into a temporary tail spin. So from my new position in the recliner with my leg elevated and iced, here are a few lessons that might assist you on your journey:  Sometimes you need an expert to guide the process.  Although anyone could look at my foot and tell it was broken, we needed an orthopedic surgeon to fully diagnosis my injury and to get me on the road to healing.  Likewise, in congregations, we may have a basic understanding of the problem, but a trained coach or interim can be invaluable for helping us flesh out the issues and get clear about the steps involved in healing. An expert...

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...

Cultivating a Culture of Call

Nearly all observers of the 21st century church in America agree that the next generation of leadership is a cause for concern. Many write, blog, tweet and generally lament the state of leadership cultivation and training, or lack thereof. Far too many congregations no longer encourage young people and laity to consider vocational ministry. Many congregations cannot remember the last time someone from their ranks sensed a call to vocational ministry and followed that call to licensing and/or ordination. Those who study such things know that a minority of our congregations produce a majority of our clergy. What is it about the culture of those churches that encourages a call to ministry among their members? How do they create a “culture of call” that invites parishoners to consider deeply the possibiity that God may be leading them into vocational ministry? Melissa Wiginton served for several years at the Fund for Theological Education before moving to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She, as well as anyone I know, has been a prophetic voice in this arena of call. I once heard her describe the major traits of churches that are successful at creating this calling culture. She identified four characteristics of a “calling Church”. A place where something is at stake. Calling Churches are doing more than busywork; they are engaging many people in life-changing ministry. Their members are passionate about their church and it’s mission. They invest in youth and children’s ministry that is more than fun and games. A church that is a seat of resistance. Calling Churches consistently sound a counter-cultural message about what matters most. They hold...