Aug 26, 2011

Pastors See Change in Society Pt. 2

I recently edited a book called “Transitions: Leading Churches Through Change” (John Knox Press). In the book, 32 well-respected thinkers take readers on a tour of their disciplines and address issues of change. Two insights are particularly helpful for our day.

First, change has its dangers. Substantive change raises an authentic possibility of failure. The book’s introduction notes that in “The New Organon” (Novum Organum), Francis Bacon wrote in 1620 about “the reality that change is dangerous.” Imagine a scenario in which 17th century farmers in a particular region each used a new method of agriculture in hopes of producing better crops. If the farmer’s enterprise fails, then the price could be starvation. Thus this kind of change is more than an inconvenience — it has the potential to put survival in peril.

Second, as Bishop Robert Schnase writes, “Change asks people to suffer loss, experience uncertainty and to redefine aspects of their identity.” Not only is consequential change dangerous, it also triggers a type of grief process. Change means embracing something else while letting go of what is familiar. It is a human emotional transaction that calls on clergy to assist people with both fear of the new and loss of the old.

The biggest transition for me in ministry is helping more people who stumble through change and addressing this change with less built-in pastoral authority than previous generations.

People I try to help are disillusioned because they want something they do not have, or have something they do not want. My job is to shine a little light of faith on their circumstance and remind them that nothing happens at once. The journey gives us the desires of our hearts. There is no guru, magician or wizard who can give you what you want. Only you can do that and not all at once. Fulfillment is found on the journey of life, usually when you least expect it.

Aug 16, 2011

Pastors See Change in Society Pt. 1

People occasionally ask me, “How has being a minister changed over the last three decades?” It is a question that might be asked of any calling or profession. From the vantage point of ministry, the question offers an engrossing perspective on modern life.

A perceptive mentor remarked that pastors probably have more experience with life-change than any other profession: The work compels ministers to be specialists in transitions. I must admit the mentor recognized a virtually certain truth. As those who work with individuals and congregations, pastors eat and breathe change within the world parishioners face.

North Americans have witnessed massive changes in the function of the leaders of our public institutions. When I was 25 years old and straight from seminary, I knew — as Sgt. Schultz used to say on “Hogan’s Heroes” — nothing. Yet my congregation said, “You are our pastor, and we will do what you say — so lead us.” Uncomfortable as I was with directing folks 50 years my senior, I soon realized that by virtue of position those I led granted me authority.

Today, despite my 32 years of experience and oodles of education, novice church members hardly hesitate to tell me how to “do it” better. A core issue for leadership in the 21st century is how to guide without the built-in authority assumed in previous generations.

 Nowadays everyone has access to information online — data, statistics, and facts. A doctor whose professionalism and expertise I value confided to me that she spends far too much time with patients during office visits notifying them that the Internet cannot diagnose as well as she can with an in-person examination.

We may know “stuff,” yet maybe we don’t understand what it means.  A great change has taken place during the recession.  Scrambling businesses have showed a readiness to swap people who possess institutional memory for new employees hired at reduced salaries. This money-saving strategy flows from a belief that knowledge of facts often trumps wisdom of experience. Yet our Judeo-Christian heritage speaks to wisdom’s place in human relations. We want wise persons among us. It is good to be smart — better to be wise. Have we as a postmodern culture substituted knowing facts for using them wisely?

Photo Courtesy of busy.pochi/flickr

Aug 5, 2011

The Return of the Ancient Practices

In a few Sundays, beginning on August 14, we will start a new worship series based on some of the ideas presented in Brian McLaren’s book: Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. It is a book that extols practicing our faith in contrast to defining ourselves as Christians either by what we believe or what we do not believe.

Ancient practices are the things the early church did to live out and not just formulate tenets - although it certainly did that. While it is important to have some rational content to our faith, the putting into practice part cannot be realistically neglected either. When people say “practice what you preach” they mean live your life so it measures up to the life you profess out loud.

Our worship series, titled “Practicing Faith,” will use some of the ideas from Brian McLaren’s book Finding Our Way Again. Among the practices we will explore in worship are “Contemplative Practice” (focus on prayer), “Missional Practice,” and “Communal Practice” (focus on Communion).

How do these practices make our spiritual journey more faithful and fruitful?

A new found basis uniting many Christians today is the “emerging church” movement. This notion states we can choose to live our faith and depart from impiety which seems to be the way of the world. As one of my former parishioners used to say: “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” When we practice our faith instead of debating the finer points of orthodoxy we do just that—we show who we are and what we believe by what we do. This is an important way to practice the faith.

For two thousand years, some branches of Christianity have concentrated on skirmishing over dogma. Some of these combatants only recognize the faith in terms of sound teachings concerning beliefs about eternal security, the nature of salvation, the Trinity, spiritual gifts, etc. In the meantime, the way Christians live has become less and less important. In the real secular world, when people hear Christians squabble they want no part of Jesus.

Ignatius of Antioch gave his life for Christ—in great joy— in A.D. 110. On the way to his martyrdom, he wrote:

The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognized by their conduct (Epistle to the Ephesians 14).

During our series called “Practicing Faith” we as a church will explore some the ancient practices as we attempt to bring the true spirit of Jesus into the twenty-first Century. 

You may order this book from Melissa Darrow in the church office (817-274-2571).

Aug 2, 2011

Avoiding the Summer Slump

My old friend, Michael Duduit, is a Southern Baptist with a sense of humor. Recently, he wrote an article outlining ways pastors can boost summer church attendance. Among his suggestions were door prizes for Sunday morning worship, free pizza to the first 250 congregants, and a sermon series based on popular movies Toy Story 3, Black Swan, Exit Through The Gift Shop, and The Social Network.

Perhaps it is sad that his humor has an element of truth in it. Many churches do run at less than 100% during the summer. I suppose that is to be expected. People attend family reunions, go on vacation, or have weekend family outings during the months of June, July, and August. We all need to get away from time to time.

However, I want to offer a word of praise for those who help us continue the work of the church through the dog days of summer. Many people do attend worship and Sunday school. Many people do help keep the church’s finances afloat even when they are in New Mexico, Colorado, Chengdu, or Iowa. Many people do continue to teach and help—even when we often operate with a skeleton crew of leaders during the summer months. For this I thank you.

Thus, although the church looks to be dormant in these hot summer days, there is work being done so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed through the ministries of our church. Thanks be to God—AND thanks be to you.

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