We agree about pecans, but not about pastors

I learned a couple of very important things over the weekend.

First, most of my Facebook friends agree that the correct pronunciation of the word “pecan” is “puh-CAHN”. There is some slight disagreement as to why it is pronounced that way, but (other than a few outliers) that seems to be the consensus, whether talking about the nut itself or the nut in a pie.

The second thing I learned is that there is little to no consensus on what constitutes “Full Time” when talking about the work of pastoral ministry. In the conversation on my profile, I rediscovered a wide chasm between what we think pastors should be doing, the amount of time we think they should be able to do it in, and the reasons why we think so.

In Open Source Church, I quoted a paper I was a part of writing, “Raising Up Leaders for the Mission of God.” In that paper we said,

The Bible describes a variety of forms of ministry leadership. Evangelists served a critical role as the early Christian church began to organize. In the Middle Ages, the pastor as mediator of sacramental grace became primary. The sixteenth and seventeenth century priesthood of all believers, among other things, elicited the pastor as preacher and pastor as ethical guide models. Around 1900 and with growing literacy new images and metaphors for pastoral ministry began to emerge, especially after the First World War. In no uniform order or pure forms, pastoral ministry models of professional educator, psychologist/counselor, agent of social change, and manager of the church surfaced as ideals. Recent research shows many congregants expect their pastor to master each of these models; to be an expert in each of these roles.

Clearly, we have a disconnect.

In an age in which I believe bi-vocationality will play a greater and greater role, I was interested in what others thought about the question of being a Full Time Pastor. Is it sustainable? Is it desirable? What could a pastor reasonably expect to get done in the time she was expected to work? What kind of work was she expected to do? I didn’t ask any of these questions (I just started the ball rolling and watched it roll down the hill), but they were all answered in some form or another.

There are many conclusions I want to draw from these answers, particularly about larger question of the nature and function of the congregation, but for now I want to center on one basic point:

Our general expectation of the working life of pastors belies the fact that Christians have either not been taught or have ignored teaching on Sabbath.

A few quick thoughts:

Pastors:
We need to both teach and model Sabbath. I’m not sure when we forgot this, but Sabbath is a commandment; a sign to Israel of The Covenant. When the people came out of Egypt, Sabbath was the first thing they were taught. “You are not slaves anymore,” they were told. “Once a week, nothing happens.” That was God talking, not just a good idea.

So we should regularly preach this First Commandment, and work it into our liturgies. We should teach classes on it, specifically, and make sure it infuses anything we say about the Abundant Life.

As well, take your days off and ALL of your vacation! Are we insane? Sustained activity with no break is detrimental to our health and well being. Plus, we kind of turn into a jerk when we’ve not had any time away. You know I’m dropping truth there, right?

Also, we should limit the time we spend on things that other people can probably do better than we can. Because how can we expect to be any good at the One Thing most people assume we’ve been called to do when our brains are mush? We’re the PREACHERS, for crying out loud. For many people in the pews, this is the One Thing we get to offer them. Do we honestly think those sermons we preach after the 60+ hour weeks we’ve had are any good? I’m here to tell you they’re not. That’s our first job and we’re failing at it.

Congregations:
YOU are the Body of Christ whom your pastors are to be building up and equipping to do the work of ministry. The fact has either been forgotten or ignored, but pastors are not the people who are hired to do the work that God has called The Church to do. Pastors are helpers and teachers (in my denomination, they are actually called “teaching elders”) set apart to help and guide.

I know people are crazy busy, but that may be part of the point (and the problem). I’m sure we pastors have not done a good enough job teaching about Sabbath, let alone modeling it (see above). I know that in most jobs, folks may have a harder time achieving work/personal balance. But I fail to see why expecting pastors to endure the same (if not more) crap as they would in a corporate job for less chance at good pay and advancement is fulfilling the promises that congregations make to care for them. If congregations expect the pastor to (at least) show them a glimpse of the Abundant Life, then why make it harder for them to do so?

This isn’t about a better contract or job description. This is about a change of heart and a desire to care for one another, not pawning off our responsibility to care for each other on the MDiv. A lot of pastors I know are willing to go many extra miles to make sure people are cared for. They’ll sit for hours and drink coffee with the retiree, and eat everyone’s pie at the church potluck. But they do these things because they’re loving souls, not because you require it in your employment notice.

Honestly, I have many opinions on how this can and should change, but, for now, at least we’ve established that whenever the pastor comes to a church potluck, she’ll be consuming “puh-CAHN” pie, right?

“As long as we reach one person…”

Any church leader who has been in charge of any kind of programming that is consistently showing a lack of success has said it. “As long as we reach one person, everything was worth it.”

Everything? Really?

To be sure, there are times when that is the case. We read the parable of the Good Shepherd going to find the one lost sheep and we feel justified doing what we’ve got to do to make sure that one person knows they are loved by God. But let’s be honest: That’s not usually what we’re talking about.

What we’re usually talking about is someone trying to justify performance in the face of what they consider unreasonable expectations. Jan Edmiston taught me that these can be classified as “how much, how often, and how many.”

Rightfully so, we find these kinds of measurements to be somewhat antithetical to the purposes God has for the Church. If the job of church leaders is to maximize attendance or contributions, certain kinds of choices will be made; choices that, more often than not, make a person feel comfortable and more likely to show up and give.

Yet, rather than try to “change the scorecard” we say that scorecards don’t matter.

But they do matter. They matter quite a bit. The only way that the Good Shepherd knew that the one sheep was lost was because the shepherd counted.

The “Moneyball” phenomenon showed us that there are objective things that coaches can pay attention to that will ensure better and better results for their teams. What are those for the church?

Because – Can we just say? – with the state of the world and it’s need for Christ’s Grace and Peace, reaching just one person isn’t good enough.

The beauty and the curse of the creative drought

I’ve been in a creative drought for a while. Last Spring, I diverted my creative energies towards PLGRM and hopped off the blogging bandwagon for a while.

In some ways this has been detrimental to my creative output.

Creativity is like a muscle: if you use it, it will stay strong; if not, it will wither.

While the process of conceiving of and publishing PLGRM has been wonderful, the result is that I have neglected my own process of writing. I’ve lost a bit of my edge.

In other ways, this has strengthened my creativity.

Parameters are vital to artists. Yes, we revere those who break boundaries and do new things, but when you examine those artists you find that they were working within a set of parameters all along. It may have been a deadline. It may have been a form. It may have been the reception that they assumed they would receive. But, in every case, they were not running hog wild. They were creating within a set of boundaries.

My creative drought has served this function for me. It has forced me to ask some very tough questions about what I assume my role in the world to be, and how best to live into that role. Because “my job is getting in the way of my hobbies” I’ve been forced to pare down and whittle away, and discern how best to use the small set of talents and passions God has given me.

As Church People, we all are forced to wrestle with the fact that we work and create within a set of boundaries. We are not free to do just any old thing we want.

But this has always been the path to innovation. Innovative work is always “adjacent possible” work. Take what you’ve got and make a small move in the direction you’ve been called.

Pastors: “Go the F^(% Home”

Something I have been fond of saying to church professional types for a while is

If you’re working more than 40 hours a week, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s the truth: Jesus came to set us free and show us the way to Abundant Life. If we were to judge by the life of most pastors (who are ostensibly in the know about this sort of thing) then – I gotta be honest – the Christian life is not a life I want. Pastors are stressed out all the time. You’re telling me that sacrificing myself is going to lead to an Abundance of Stress? No thank you.

I wrote about this a bit in Open Source Church, but this video by Pam the Webivore says it better than I ever could:

I may have a different set of reasoning than Pam, but you can’t deny that she’s right.

Of Saviors and Superheroes

My earliest memories were in church.  Life began and ended there.  My life began there, and, some would say, my “real life” as a child of God began there too.

We went to this remarkably big church for a while in Broken Arrow, OK, which is just outside of Tulsa.  It was your typical early to mid-eighties Charismatic church.  There was singing and dancing galore – holy rollers to be sure.  I have a vivid memory of that church because, apparently, that’s where I “accepted Jesus into my heart.”

“Accepting Jesus into your heart” was a big deal in my family.  It seemed like every moment of your life your family would look forward to you “getting saved.”  It happened to me when I was five or six.   To be honest, it never really was that big of a deal to me (the getting saved part, not the being a Christian part) and apparently it wasn’t that day either.

The band at the church had been pumping for what seemed like an hour (in that church it could have been) and the pastor kept saying that “the Holy Ghost is obviously in this place.”  I took as evidence of that the fact that people were running around the freaking huge sanctuary like they were at a track meet, dancing in the aisles, on the seats, banging tambourines, and clapping like Jesus was, literally, on his way back to pick them up.  It was a riot.

But to my little boy sensibilities, it was not a riot. I was intrigued at the total abandon that people were able to experience.  I was amazed to see grown men and women flailing their bodies about.  I was always too embarrassed to do it.  To this day, I have a difficult time dancing in front of other people, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that dancing for me has always been equated with religious fervor – a fervor I have struggled to understand my entire life.

I’m not sure how it happened but after a while I was up on my feet.  I don’t know what was different about that particular Sunday, but I needed to move.  Of course I thought it was the Holy Ghost coursing through my veins (and it may have been) but all I knew was that I needed to move my little body.

So I began to run and run and run and run.  The music was frenetic and exciting and triumphant and I was like a little Christian Rocky Balboa taking the spiritual steps of Philly.

After a while the music seemed to calm down a bit and I landed on the front steps of the stage.  An adult came down to talk to me and, almost without thinking, I told him that I guessed I wanted to be saved.

Now I knew that I was not a perfect little kid, and I never really claimed to be.  I’ve gotta say that I wasn’t really scared of hell – hell wasn’t even a thought in my mind.  All I knew was that it felt good to be there and to run and dance and sing and if that was what having Jesus in your heart was about then I was all for it.

It wasn’t about Jesus for me.  It was about me.  I’m not ashamed of it, nor do I think that it’s wrong or unique.  In fact I would be willing to bet you that if you asked any group of little kids why it was that they “got saved,” they would most likely tell you one of two things: a) because Mom and Dad told them they should or b) because they wanted Jesus on their side.

It was the second for me.  I wanted Jesus on my side.  If what the pastor said was true then it seemed to me to be a pretty good option for me to have the kick ass King of Kings in my corner.  This Jesus he was talking about is the one that told the Devil to shove it, cast out demons, and walked on water.  Oh damn – he walked on water!

To be honest that was the coolest freaking thing about Jesus to me: the guy had superpowers.  Now, we were taught to call them “miracles”, but, let’s be honest, these are superpowers were looking at.  Raising people from the dead?  Healing people of diseases?  Lame to walk?  Deaf to hear?  This is straight outta the comics folks, and I wanted to be a part of every bit of it. But, whereas superheros live in the comics – I’ve got Jesus in my heart.  Take that, Stan Lee.

So this guy asks me if I want to have Jesus I my heart, and I say yes.  Then he asks me if I’m sorry for all my sins.   I have no clue really what I should be sorry for, but I say yes. And he tells me to repeat after him, and I do, and now I’m saved.

Kind of a let down.  You’ve got the most powerful entity in the universe, who can kick the shit out of anything, and all I had to do was say “come in”?  Fine by me, if there’s nothing more to it.

Later when we were standing outside of the sanctuary with another family my mom told me to “Tell so-and-so your exciting news.”  I was puzzled.  Exciting news?  What the hell was she talking about?

My own mother had to prompt me to retell the story of how I had just gotten myself saved from the fiery pits of hell.  All I wanted was to have a superhero for a best friend.

The New Evangelism

Last night I found a pretty cool docu as I was cruising Vimeo. It’s called Influencers: How Trends and Creativity Become Contagious.

Here it is:

As I watched, my mind naturally went to the idea of “pastors as influencers,” mostly because, well, I self-identify as a pastor. But the more and more I thought of it, the more I realized that I had an opportunity here to explore an area I feel compelled to gain a depth of knowledge and wisdom in: EVANGELISM.

Confession: I have a visceral reaction to the word and idea of “evangelism.” I am not joking. It makes my skin crawl, and I start to feel a little sick. I am not joking.

In the Fundegelical culture I grew up in, evangelism was the thing you were taught to do. Youth Group was like sales and marketing school. You learned to defend your faith and you learned to, quite honestly, push it on people. Ostensibly, evangelism is “proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ,” but I experienced it more as selling insurance policies. I know, I know. It’s a tried and tired cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason.

Recently, however, I have been compelled to reconsider what evangelism is and what it looks like. It can’t and shouldn’t be the Salvation Road Show of my youth, but neither can it be just a “commitment to welcoming those who walk through our doors and helping them find a place in the life of this congregation” (honest to God, that was the definition the evangelism committee of one Mainline church I attended had as an official statement). Do I believe that the freedom offered in Jesus Christ is transformative and worth giving my life to? Yes? Then, shouldn’t I freely give what I have freely received? Shouldn’t I offer this marvelous thing far and wide? Yes, and yes. Given how I understand the work of God in Christ, to not do so is to say that no one needs this thing I’ve found. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ephesians 4 says that God gave the church certain gifts, and that among them were “evangelists.” Can we think of evangelists as “influencers”? Well, here’s what the film says about this kind of person (with a bit of my own commentary thrown in):

Influencers are:

  • Confident. They know they are doing the right thing and they are comfortable doing it. They are not shy when the “slings and arrows” come.
  • Creative. They have a different way of thinking and expressing themselves. They realize that the answers given yesterday do not answer the questions asked today.
  • Early Adopters. They see the possibilities on the horizon long before others do. They are willing to take risks and experiment.
  • Well respected. It’s not necessarily that people “like” them. It is that they have a good track record of naming the truth of the situation. When they speak, people listen.
  • Translators. They have an ability to bring an idea into the mainstream consciousness. They can translate from one discipline to another, and draw connections where others see only dichotomies.
  • Practice Embodiment. They do not merely speak, but they live in a new way. They demonstrate the new by the way they move through their lives.
  • Self-Aware. They are concerned with the ways they come of to the ones they seek to influence. This is not to suggest that they “go by the pols” but they are strategic in the way they present themselves.
  • Rooted. They are not iconoclasts. They are a part of a community, they are accountable to others, and they know where they came from.
  • Mentors. They do not believe that it is all about them and their success. They seek out others and mentor them to do what they have done.

One significant theme that ran through the film was the reality that most influencers are a part of the “young creative class.” Part of what was named is the reality that most younger persons cannot afford to be a part of the system and are not willing to “sell out” to become so. As a result, they tend to establish an almost entirely separate network and work around the establishment. Their influence is a direct result of trying to figure out how to express themselves given their limitations.

To me, this feels like a good place to start in looking for a new understanding of evangelism.

Chapter 1 Rough Draft – “The Open Source Church”

Weighing in at just over 10,000 words (seriously – did I just puke all over the page or what?) here is a very rough first draft of Chapter 1 – The Open Source Church.

Please spread the news about the link.  Feel free to leave comments here or send them to landon@landonville.com.