A Brand in Crisis, continued

A Texas pastor asked people why they don’t come to church. The #1 reason?

We’re stuck up, judgmental, anti-homosexual, non-thinking hypocrites.

It’s not that people outside the church have low expectations of Christians. It’s the opposite. They expect us to actually live out the things we proclaim on Sunday. They expect us to love our neighbor, care for the least of these and love our enemies.

They have high expectations for us, and we have disappointed them. Instead they have been insulted, hurt and broken by us.

Read the rest.

Pecans and Pastors, continued

A reader writes, regarding yesterday’s post:

Congregations need to know that when they expect 60 hours a week out of their pastor, when they routinely call the pastor on their day off, when they burden the duties of all the work of programs and activities on their pastor…all of these things…it creates resentment and bitterness…

And when we’re resentful and bitter, we can’t be pastors, ministers, teachers, shepherds, or effective preachers of the gospel.

It’s frustrating because of the cultural expectations surrounding pastors. If we refuse to do this stuff, or try to create a culture where the congregation does it and we support, resource and cheer lead, then we are seen as lazy and not wanting to do our jobs. I actually saw something in the regional church newsletter that referred to the expectation that full-time = at least 50 hours per week, and a statement was attached that “our younger pastors squawk about it, but they just don’t have the work ethic we’re used to seeing in our older pastors.”

We’ve created a cultural dependence on our presence in the churches. We’re so afraid that the church will run just fine without us that we’ve made ourselves indispensable, creating a culture where we get burnt out and frustrated and bitter.

And that’s not good…for us as ministers or for the congregations that we serve.

To a certain extent, that absolutely matches my experience.

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.