A bored or anxious pastor is not a good pastor

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly said that:

  • When someone has skills or talents that are overkill for what is being asked of them, they get bored.
  • When what is being asked of them is not achievable through the use of their skills and talents, they get anxious.

Pastors suffer from both conditions.

Those who have been called to serve in the particular role of pastor are a unique breed of cat (Aren’t we all? But go with me here…). We say that these are the people who have been identified as being especially gifted at nurturing and educating us into the larger narrative that God is writing in history. This is a powerful and awesome reality, and, out of the full Body of Christ, we have asked particular ones of us to devote their lives to helping us see it.

This is what most pastors have signed up for. Willingly. Excitedly. Pastors are artists of the highest order, and artists will give up almost anything to make art.

And yet…

When a congregation has no interest in exploration or wonder or doubt or innovation or… The pastor is going to get bored, and will struggle with whether she wants to be in ministry in that place. Or at all.

When a congregational board insists that the pastor focus all his time and energy in marketing and recruitment for the sake of the bottom line…. Sorry, “evangelism”… The pastor will get anxious, and will struggle with whether he has actually been called to ministry in the first place. He might burn out, quit, and work at a menial uninspiring job. What a sad place for an artist to be.

What we ought to do with our pastors is help them find the sweet spot of their skills/talents where they are making the art they’ve been called to make and are stretched to make it better. I’ll bang this drum over and over again: Pastors are not called to be managers and administrators. That is an entirely different skill-set.

Pastors are artists. Do you want a good pastor? Then let her make her art, and she will blow your world wide open. If you don’t, then you’re squandering a precious gift that God has given you.

The New Evangelism: A Brand in Crisis

Christianity is a brand in crisis.

This is saying nothing new, of course, but it bears repeating.

To say that a brand is in crisis is to say that it has become muddled and has developed an inability to effectively communicate to its customer base. When a brand is in crisis, there is no longer a clear, discernible understanding of what is being offered. When a brand is in crisis, those with whom the brand wishes to do business have turned their attention elsewhere, often for a myriad of reasons, but, mostly, because the brand no longer demonstrates that it is in sync with their own self understanding.

Brands are not about the thing being offered, but the people to whom the brand wishes to be in relationship.

One thing that brands have going for them is that they are not about a specific product. The idea of a brand comes from the practice of branding one’s cattle so that your livestock can be easily identified as distinct from another’s livestock. The word itself comes from the Norse word that means, “to burn.” The cattle was the product; the rancher is the brand.

I suspect that the brand called “Christianity” is in crisis because is has believed that it is about a specific product.

There is an old saying that goes, “When people buy a drill they do not actually want a drill. They want a hole.” The thinking is that the drill is merely a means to an end. People do not, generally, wake up one day and say to themselves, “I wish I had a drill.” But, when they find themselves in need of a hole, they go looking for a drill.

I think Christianity has confused the drill for the hole.

Confusing the drill for the hole*

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made being good the message of the Gospel. For far too long we have made adherence to a strict moral code the criteria for judging discipleship. Jesus, on the other hand, demonstrated with his life that his plan of action was one of service and sacrifice. The Christian Faith has little to do with us, and everything to do with whether or not we are servants of others.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made influencing the decisions of others the message of the Gospel. As Andrew Root has taught us, Christ did not come to be with us to get us to do anything. Christ came to be with us to share our place in depths of our pain.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made heterosexuality a requirement for receiving the Grace and Peace promised in the Gospel. In seeking to lift up purity, we forgot that when the Spirit of the Lord touches a person’s heart there is nothing to prevent them from being accepted into the Body of Christ.

Christianity confused the drill with the hole when it refused to think in an attempt to be faithful. Rather than loving God with our minds and seeking to reconcile all we have learned with the truth of God’s amazing love, we continue to deny the need to care for our planet and insist that women’s bodies can, somehow, miraculously survive rape.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it equated the Missio Dei with a political platform. While professing to work with God to make Earth as it is in Heaven, we have sacrificed our call to care for the poor, outcast, and marginalized in favor of political expediency.

It’s time to apologize

Someone recently asked me what I thought would be a good first step to repairing our image, of getting our brand “realigned” (so to speak). In light of the recent Pew study, we know that those whom we might call the “Nones” or the “Spiritual but Not Religious” actually like our God, our Jesus, prayer, etc. The survey’s respondents actually hold beliefs that are surprisingly close to many traditional Christian beliefs.

However, they don’t like us much.

I think the best thing we can do at this point, in light of the ways we confused the drill for the hole, is to simply apologize. Loudly. And often.

In as many ways as we can think of, we should make it known that we’re sorry for being stuck up, judgmental, anti-homosexual, non-thinking hypocrites. We should apologize for obscuring the marvelous teaching of Love that our Savior gave us by thinking more about our own rightness rather than the needs of our neighbors.

I think we should take out ads in newspapers (if anyone actually still reads them) and send emails and put up flyers and put it on our church websites.

I know that wallowing doesn’t help, but I’m not advocating wallowing. I’m advocating being honest.

We’ve really screwed up and made Jesus into something he’s very much not. I think it’s time to very loudly and very publicly come clean about that.

*These points were shamelessly cribbed from unChristian.

The New Evangelism, revisited

Last January, I offered a few thoughts on what a “New Evangelism” might look like. In that post, I cribbed the ideas from a documentary I had watched about influencers, asking if the church could reframe its thinking on evangelism in light of what we’ve been able to learn from those who have influenced our idea of culture. “What would a postmodern evangelist look like?” I wondered.

This past weekend, I was reminded of these thoughts. I was wrapping up a speaking gig on the “10 Commandments of Open Source” and some one asked what reason I had for being so hopeful about the church and the Christian Faith given my professed belief that God does not exclusively call people into relationship through Jesus Christ. Or, to ask it another way: “Why should we devote time to making a case for following Christ when there are a ton of other good offers out there?”

This is a good question, I think. Many people I know claim that Christianity is not the only religion that we could give our lives to. However, we have stopped short of spreading the Good News because we don’t want to get painted with the same brush strokes as “Those Christians.” This is totally understandable. The moment that you allow for there to be more than one option, the less likely you are to insist that yours is the best option. And, yet, I can still think that my option is really, really great and worth considering while, at the same time, being honest about its flaws etc.

So that’s what I think I’d like to devote some time and thinking to over the next month or so. What does evangelism look like in an open source world? While I’m not going to say that others have it wrong, I want to figure out how to make the case for why we’ve got it right. How do we make a case for a consistent worldview and life ethic that doesn’t insist that others are not worthy of consideration and devotion?

And so, to get us started, I want to offer some realities that I think would be helpful and necessary to acknowledge when considering our question.

  1. Evangelism is not a dirty word. I have had bad experiences with the “E Word” growing up. As a Charismatic Fundegelical, we treated evangelism like selling a product and we tried everything in our power to get you to buy what we were selling. Even if it meant lying a little. I’m not kidding. But if the Good News really is good news, then we should want to make it known. We’ve got to get over our fear/revulsion/whatever of evangelism.
  2. There is no such thing as on message for the whole world. Anyone with even a passing understanding of contextualization will know that treating everyone the same is just ridiculous. We may want to say that “Jesus is the Answer,” but I think that grossly overstates what we think the question is. Not everyone is asking the same question, and if the Good News is going to actually be good news then is must be relevant news.
  3. No one knows who we are anymore. And no one seems to care. The recent Pew study is only the latest evidence to us that Christianity is seen as irrelevant, and where we’re not irrelevant, we’re often despised. We can’t trust that anything we do will be held up as important. Sure, some of us still get our names in the paper, but those stories are so few and far between that they will have no impact on our standing in the community we’ve been called to serve.
  4. Evangelism is part marketing, and its online marketing at that. We need to stop thinking that “Invite a Friend Sunday” is going to do anything to stem the tide. People are still spiritually seeking and they will give us a look-see, but we need to make it easy for them. And this means that, damnit, we need to get over our aversion to social media and accept that people are increasingly online. It seems so silly to write that statement, but so many churches are not heeding Carol’s advice that the website/FB page/Twitter account are the main door folks use to enter a church.
  5. People don’t want to interact with “First Church” but the people of First Church. Those “clear boundaries” that we have been encouraged to set up are now seen as the latest ways that we fragment our lives. Seeing church people as blank slates that only hold the church’s message is kinda silly. The fact that Jerome is the one tweeting for First Church makes a difference to how First Church is seen. And, in the end, isn’t it the people that make church worthwhile?
  6. We don’t need to spend a lot of money on evangelism programs. We just need to believe that what we are offering (Christ’s Freedom, Grace, and Peace) is worth spending our time sharing. Seriously, if we believe that what we’ve got is worth it, the rest is just tactics and logistics.
  7. We can’t control people’s opinion of us. But we can be around to help mitigate it if it’s bad. The Pew study showed us that most USAmericas love God, Jesus, prayer, etc, but they don’t like us. If we are not out and about – physically or digitally – we will have no chance of changing that impression. Did you know that we are all seen as homophobic, judgmental asses? Of course not. Because we’ve holed ourselves up and are concerned with saving ourselves, rather than help God save the lost, release the captives, and heal the sick.

I’m sure there are many more realities than that. Those are just the one I can think of right now, on a sunday afternoon. What else do we need to contend with as we think about engaging an open source world?