Learning to Navigate Diversity

Learning to Navigate Diversity

One of the most enriching and fatiguing things about church life these days is the vast diversity within most local congregations. During some recent days of self-reflection and ministry evaluation, I spent some time thinking about why I feel more fatigued these days than I did a few years ago. There are likely many contributing factors including my age, my length of tenure, and what Paul called “the daily pressure of my concern for the churches” (II Corinthians 11:28). But it dawned on me that a part of this new mental fatigue is caused by the continual task of navigating diversity within the church, a phenomena for which I was neither trained nor prepared. To further process my notion, I started listing the ways the church is more diverse today than it was when I began my first tenure as a pastor. I quickly identified 10 areas of church ministry that illustrate this proliferation of diversity: Generational diversity: There are now 4-6 generations present on any given Sunday in many multi-generational churches. Translation diversity: Rather than one standard Bible translation, members of my congregation read a variety of different Bible translations, and I am sure there are a dozen or more different translations present each time I preach Racial and ethnic diversity: There are multiple races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds present within most congregations. Worship time diversity: Many churches have multiple worship services. Worship style diversity: Our church has two Sunday morning worship services, each involving a different style of worship. Curriculum diversity: Rather than a standard denominational literature, there are multiple curricula used by Sunday School and Bible...
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...
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...
Nurturing Faith Dinner Event: A Conversation with Bob Dale & Bill Wilson

Nurturing Faith Dinner Event: A Conversation with Bob Dale & Bill Wilson

Nurturing Faith presents a dinner event featuring…   A Conversation with Bob Dale and Bill Wilson, and the release of their new book, Weaving Strong Leaders: How Leaders Grow Down, Grow Up, Grow Together Thursday, September 22 Walnut Hills Baptist Church 1014 Jamestown Rd., Williamsburg, Va. 5:30 pm – Reception and Registration 6:00 pm – Dinner event with book-signing to follow Everyone is invited to join the Nurturing Faith/Baptists Today Board of Directors for this event.   Click here to register or call (478)...
Healthy Beginnings Matter for Pastor Search Process

Healthy Beginnings Matter for Pastor Search Process

In a recent training event for congregational conflict interventionists, one of our CHC team members heard Richard Blackburn, a Lombard Peace Center trainer, say this: “When I look into the history of churches I go into for a conflict intervention, I almost always find they had a bad pastoral transition in the past.” Wow. Double Wow. The call process for free churches is a unique and nuanced blend of divine intervention, spiritual discernment, naivety, blended intelligence from the HR world, wishful thinking, unrealistic expectations, and occasional luck and/or providence. Over the last five years, I have had a ringside seat at the table as process coach with nearly two-dozen Pastor Search Committees. For some, the work has been something akin to spiritual renewal, while others have wondered what they did to make God so angry with them. Working alongside these committees has been entertaining, sad, humbling, inspiring, frustrating, hilarious, and deeply troubling…sometimes all in the same evening! Here at CHC, we have developed, through trial and error, a much healthier and more robust process than most congregations expect or initially appreciate. We are finding that doing the rigorous work of thoughtful spiritual discernment, combined with appropriate congregational self-study, making use of best practices from multiple vocations, and blended with a humble spirit of proactive invitation produces a much higher likelihood of a successful and mutually satisfying call to a new pastor. One truth that is rapidly emerging is the critical importance of two specific windows during the call process. Both have to do with beginnings. The first is the initial formation period for the committee. The second is the...
5 Reasons We Should Complain

5 Reasons We Should Complain

As a minister and a father, I’m accustomed to hearing people complain, especially my kids. Such phrases as, “I don’t want to go to bed,” or “This sandwich is yucky,” or “My sister is bothering me,” are repeated on a seemingly infinite loop some days. Complaining happens in congregations as well with gems like “Her sermons are too long,” or “No young people come to church anymore,” or “I’m the only one who ever does anything for the Missions Committee.” Complaining is everywhere. I figure it must be productive to complain. What do grumblers know that makes complaining such an enticing act? Here are five reasons we should complain. It is easier than actually changing. We all know how awful change is. Instead of thoughtfully taking action to fix a problem or working with others to come up with a solution, complaining only takes enough energy to negatively talk about a situation. It would take too much energy to actually fix the problem. We will get better at it. Practice makes perfect! The more we complain, the better we will get at it, and the easier it will become. Try not to give up too soon. If we complain about the little things like a song on the radio or the smell of our shampoo, then eventually we will become more skilled complainers who can nitpick our spouses, aggravate our coworkers, and depress our pastors. But remember to start small and to do it often so that some day we can be so skilled at complaining that everyone knows it’s our unique calling in life. It provides opportunities to...