Teaching Culture Shifts the HBS Way

Harvard Business School famously uses the case study method to teach future imagetitans of business.  They aren’t the only ones, of course.

As I’ve written in this blog before, I’ve noticed that:

  • Seminary professors often have little to no experience as parish pastors.  (Imagine teaching people to be doctors who were not practicing doctors themselves.)
  • Seminaries are not teaching students how to navigate our congregations from a 20th Century to a 21st Century culture.  See Wednesday’s post.  (Some classes might talk about the fact that church culture has changed since the 1950s but they don’t teach future pastors how to help churches make the shift from – for example – a church that does mission to a missional church.)

We, in the church, might look to our friends at Harvard Business School for ideas on how to teach Cultural Shifting.  In fact, the case study method would be helpful in many facets of training future pastors.  For example:

  • HBS has their Great Negotiator case studies. (e.g. George Mitchell negotiating peace in Northern Ireland.)  Seminaries could use case studies on negotiating the exit of a beloved church staff member who needs to go.  How would this go in a 20th Century Church Culture compared to how should it go now in a 21st Century Church Culture based on missional, disciple-making principles?
  • HBS uses case studies on entrepreneurship. (e.g. “Design Thinking & Innovation at Apple”)  Seminaries could use case studies on the how-to and how-not-to initiate entrepreneurial community projects.
  • HBS uses case studies on creating community.  (e.g.  “Threadless & The Business of Community“)  Seminaries could teach case studies involving Annual Chili Cook-offs and Ice Cream Socials.  What really creates authentic community and what simply fulfills our institutional needs/traditions?

Dealing with real church cases would help seminarians learn leadership strategies for their own adventures out in the parish, especially in the areas of Church Staffing, Stewardship & Budget Planning, Liturgical Revitalizing, Leadership Structuring, and more.  And maybe this kind of training could also be offered to those already in parish settings as a post-seminary continuing education opportunity.

We need training for Real Life Ministry.  Sharing our Real Life Situations helps train professional ministers for dealing with the shifts in church culture.

It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that these case studies would also call upon students to integrate what they are learning about theology, Bible study, history, and worship.  What do you think?

Image is from the Schwartz Art Collection of the Harvard Business School. Details here.

What If Wednesday: What If Seminaries Taught Culture Shifting?

imageSeminaries have been described as General College for Professional Ministry. Students take Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Theology, Christian Education, Practical Theology, Pastoral Care, and Preaching. This track has not changed much in the past 50 plus years.

As I – and many others – have written, seminarians are being trained to serve churches that no longer exist.  Or at the very least least, we need seminarians trained to do 21st Century Ministry which is totally different from 20th Century Ministry.  Again, this is old news.  But I believe that . . .

Seminaries need to teach future professional ministers how to shift a congregation’s culture.  

Last weekend, I worshiped with a congregation I love.   They are currently being led by an Interim Pastor, so they’ll soon be electing a Pastor Nominating Committee who will search for their next “permanent” pastor.  After worship I lunched with several over-80 year old members who love their congregation and wonder what the future holds for their church.  “What can we do to attract a good pastor?” I was asked.

The answer is complicated.

If they want someone to do ministry the way it’s always been done, then I have two responses:

  1. Your church is going to die.  My guess is that it will die within 10 years.  I’m regretably certain that it will be gone in 20 years.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, but crunch some numbers and see what you come up with in terms of your membership and your budget numbers.
  2. You can easily find a chaplain of any age to preach, teach, visit, marry, baptize, and bury to serve you until you die.

If they want someone to lead them into the next 50 years, then I have one answer:

  1. You need to call a pastor who is an expert in shifting your congregation’s culture.

The problem is that most of our pastors have no idea how to do this.  What if we taught this in seminary?  (I have ideas why we don’t but that’s for another blog post.)

Imagine equipping a new (or seasoned) pastor in the tools needed to help a congregation discern:

  • How does the neighborhood see them?  (Maybe they are invisible.  Almost certainly they are not The Church On The Corner that everybody notices and respects.)
  • Who is in their neighborhood?  (Have they noticed that they might not speak English?  Have they noticed that the neighbors don’t look like them?  What are the neighbors doing on Sunday mornings?)
  • Can they imagine being the church without _____ (Traditional Sunday School?  A choir in robes?  Sunday morning worship?  A 9:30 Bible study?  Potluck dinners?)  Maybe those traditional features are working for them still, but what if they are not working any more?  What needs to be relinquished?
  • Can they imagine shifting away from transactional ministry?  (e.g.  “If we start a pre-school, young families will join the church” (as opposed to just offering a pre-school because the community needs it.)

We don’t need anymore classically trained pastors who have no idea how to navigate a culture change in their congregations.  While we love smart pastors who can exegete a Koine verb or articulate the various theories of atonement, we need culturally, pastorally savvy pastors who can navigate difficult shifts with love – while also exegeting verbs and knowing theories of atonement.

Who can identify seminaries that are teaching this today?  And what are those seminaries?

Image of one of my alma maters:  Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

Still Asking: Does This Pulpit Make My Butt Look Big? (Either Way, It’s Fine)

imageI am writing from Davidson, NC where I’m meeting with my annual Preaching Group.  You can read more about us here.

We started as a post-Doctor of Ministry group and then lost and added new people along the way.  We range in age from early 40s to mid-60s.  We are all clergywomen.

There are preaching groups comprised of both men and women, and we appreciate and salute them.  We (the Preaching Roundtable) gathered in response to the fact that we were not allowed in the (then) exclusively male clergy groups.  But while we share our sermons and other resources, while we discuss theology and best practices, we mostly share our lives.  Think Carol Gilligan.  We tell stories and eat good food and encourage each other and coach each other.  We celebrate new calls, not merely because the calls are good matches but also because the Nominating Committees were bold enough to call a woman.

Most of us have been the first female pastor our parishioners have known, in at least one of our calls.  And we also seem to share in other common experiences:

  1. Our most ardent opponents – if we have had any – have been women parishioners.  Most women parishioners are supportive, but occasionally there are women in the congregation who make life fairly miserable.  Maybe they rue the fact that they didn’t go to seminary themselves.  Maybe it’s an inherent Means Girls Thing. Maybe they would prefer to see male pulpit candy every Sunday morning.  Maybe their ecclesiastical power is threatened.  Who knows?
  2. We are criticized if not always perceived as warm and fuzzy.  We might in fact be warm and fuzzy on occasion, but we can also be strong, direct, and confident.  Strong, direct, confident women are sometimes not considered pastoral.  You’ve heard this before with other female professionals.
  3. Most of us have been paid less than our male predecessors or colleagues for most of our careers.  Associate pastors are often paid much less (1/3 as much) than senior pastors, but even female senior pastors are often paid much less than male senior pastors of comparable congregations.

These are generalities – none of which is new material –  and – again – this is merely our own experience.  Nothing scientific here.  But church folks should be aware of these factoids.

Nevertheless, all believe that professional ministry is a privilege and a joy.  Exhausting and crazy-making occasionally, but extraordinarily satisfying as well.  We are so thankful for each other and my hope is that all pastors have this – a long-term group of friends with whom you can share your doubts and frustrations and funny stories.  Let me know if you need help finding your own group.

Image is of the signature RevGalBlogPals mug.  A favorite since July 2005.

My Name in Granite

Some people have seen their name in lights.  I’ve seen my name in granite.


My father put all his children’s names and dates of births on his and Mom’s gravestone in the event that a family historian will one day want to track us down.  When my parents died over 20 years ago, cemetery-visiting seemed like the preferred way to do such research.  Today we have ancestry.com and more.

Seeing my name in granite has a Lenten feel in that I am reminded that “To Dust I Will Return.”  We are all going to die.

But seeing my name in granite while I’m still alive smacks of Missing the Point – cosmically – if we are followers of Jesus.  My life is not sealed in granite.

The world might believe that after making a single terrible choice (or a dozen terrible choices) we deserve our sad fate.  We might be pegged for all time by a world that wants to label us and place us in a tidy box.

But whatever we’ve done in the past, whatever has happened to us, whatever trauma has befallen us – our fate is not in fact sealed in granite.  There is always hope.  Maybe it’s too early to say this, but redemption is always possible.

Lent: Real Hospitality

imageI was feeling like a Lenten success on Thursday after spending 3 hours of my morning in the Illinois DMV in downntown Chicago.  I was perky in spite of the wait.  I was corgial in spite of the difficulties in registering a car owned by someone in NY but driven by someone in VA (long story.)  And I felt authentically grateful for the staff who have a boring job – at least until they met me with the car involving two states that are not Illinois.

So, on my way to work with license plates in hand, I saw a man standing by the Daley Center with a sign that said, “Hungry.  Just Hungry” and this happened next:

Perky Lenten Me:  I’m headed down to Starbucks for coffee and a sandwich. Would you like to come with me?

Guy with “Hungry” Sign:  I don’t really like Starbucks but thanks anyway.

I was such a Lenten success that morning that I was not in any way angry about his response.  In fact I felt great about my light-hearted attitude and the fact that he could have had a delicious breakfast sandwich and a latte but he chose not to do so.

But then it hit me:  Who was this offer for?  Me or GWHS?

Maybe coffee makes him sick and he doesn’t realize that you can also get tea and water and juice and hot cocoa in a Starbucks.  Maybe he didn’t want to go inside a building with a stranger.  Here’s what I should have said:

“Where would you like to go for something to eat?  I’ll take you.”

I’m a believer in relational ministry which means that I would not only like to give you money, but I’d like to have a relationship with you.  It’s more time consuming, but it feels more Christ-like to me.

Maybe he still would have said, “No, lady, I just want some cash.”

Maybe he wasn’t even hungry but he works for one of those scam groups who stick people out on the street corner and then come by to get their money later.

Or maybe he didn’t like Starbucks.  Only God knows, but next time I’ll try Plan B.

Lent: Forgive Me for Repelling People

imageI like coffee shops.

I like prayer.

I like Bible studies.

I like prayer and Bible studies in coffee shops.

But yesterday – on Ash Wednesday in the year of our LORD 2014 – in rural-ish Illinois, I happened to park myself in a Starbucks with my computer and a skinny mocha, sitting in the one seat not taken by a large group of Christians who seemed to be gathering for prayer and Bible study.

They were loud.  Like Sports-Bar-on-a-Monday-night-before-the-Playoffs loud.   It was about 11 am and they were talking (loudly) and laughing and then praying (loudly) and then they left.  And all I could think about was how much I did not ever want to be a part of that group.

God, have mercy on me and my own friends for the times that we were That Group.  I’ve been part of groups called Theology on Tap (until my RC brothers threatened to sue me), Faith on Tap, and God Talk on Tap.  And now I wonder how often we made onlookers never want to be a part of our gathering.

And so, please forgive me and my friends.  My hope in getting together with believers and doubters and born-again atheists is that we would be authentically welcoming of all.  But I wonder how often I have repelled people from a God who entered our world in human skin and loved/welcomed/blessed everyone.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Tourists Who Walk, Ride, & Buy

Navy-Pier-Ferris-WheelAccording to this article, the world’s tourists spend most of our time walking around, shopping, enjoying amusement park rides and maybe gambling.

We live in a world where more people visit Navy Pier than the Louvre.  Even worse – in my snobby opinion – is that the Las Vegas Strip has more tourists than any other attraction in the whole wide world.

(Note:  as a fairly new resident of Chicagoland, your time will be better spent on an architectural boat tour than Navy Pier. Even if you don’t like architecture, you get to ride on a boat.)

How can Union Station in Washington, DC or Grand Central Station in NYC be a bigger tourist attraction than the Smithsonian Museums, unless we are counting people who are simply walking around in food courts?  Same with Times Square. Are we counting a stroll through the Hershey store as tourism?

So here’s my church connection (because there is always a church connection.)  Rob Bell wrote long ago in Velvet Elvis that we 21st Century Church People are sort of like tour guides:   We help guide people who are passing through, in hopes of enhancing their experience and understanding of what they are seeing or hearing or feeling.

Churches today attract lots of tourists, and I don’t mean those churches with Tiffany Windows and historic pulpits.  I’m talking about communities of faith with visitors  who are looking for something.  Maybe they don’t even know what they are looking for.

Some people simply want to walk in and check it out as a cultural experience. Others are looking for more of a log flume experience:  “My life is a roller coaster.  What does it mean?”  Maybe they will get a little wet.

It could feel like a huge gamble to visit a church.  They are hoping against hope for something that will make them rich.  They will find – perhaps – that spiritual peace cannot be bought.

Are we prepared to engage with spiritual tourists?  Are our church leaders equipped to give what we might consider to be obvious directions to guests who don’t know a hymnal from a Bible – although those differences are as unfamiliar as a subway map in a foreign city?  Are we willing to repeat the same message over and over again with unrelenting patience and compassion?  And do we know that message personally ourselves (i.e. that God loves us enough to die for us, that we were born to love God and others, that we are saved by grace?)

Look for tourists this Lenten season – who probably don’t even know what Lent is.  They will definitely be walking along or driving by or shopping.


Pick Me! Pick Me!

Seven women shall take hold of one man on that day, saying,
‘We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes;
just let us be called by your name; take away our disgrace.’  Isaiah 4:1

LupitaWe all want to be chosen.  From kick ball teams on the playground to varsity teams in high school.  By college admissions officers and job interviewers.  At the Oscars.  By Pastor Nominating Committees.  We so much want to be picked and it feels – maybe even – disgraceful when we are not.  We want to be liked (really liked.)  We want to be accepted.  We want people to want us.

It feels lousy not be to picked, but there are reasons why some of us are chosen and some are not.

  • One pastor is chosen over another because the congregation was looking for something you can’t teach or force.  It wasn’t that other candidates were not smart enough or old enough or young enough.  (Note: Sadly sometimes it is still about not being male enough or straight enough or white enough, though.)  When the Spirit of God is in control, unexpected things happen.
  • One actor is chosen over another to win a prize for a multiplicity of reasons that sometimes make sense and sometimes don’t.  How do we even try to compare Lupita Nyong’o ‘s Patsy with June Squibb’s Kate?  And yet the cliche that “just being nominated is an honor” falls flat.
  • Some of us believe that if we can just get a foot in the door, we’ll have a good chance of being chosen.  Some of us believe it’s totally “who you know.”

I love this bizarre verse in Isaiah 4 about the seven women vying for one man.  There was/is shame in not being selected to be somebody’s partner because it means that we belong when we are selected.  In the days when Isaiah was written, it literally meant “belong” to someone.  If a woman in those days didn’t belong to a man (her father or her husband) her life had no meaning.

Twenty-first Century Church is all about belonging – but I don’t mean having our names on church rolls or membership cards.  (Any pastor will tell you that she’d rather serve a church  of 200 members with 180 in worship than serve a church of 2000 members with 180 in worship.)

Belonging today means participating, making a commitment, feeling connected, experiencing community.  It’s okay if we don’t get the job/award/position on the team if we feel appreciated and fulfilled in our particular community.  This is what church is for:  to ensure that we have a community of people who love and accept us in the image of Christ.  The world doesn’t always choose us.  But God already has.

How are we doing on conveying this truth to others?


The Ministry of Helping People Save Face

shame1Brene Brown continues to be The Patron Saint of Vulnerability, polishing the lens through which I see things. Consider all the Bible stories that have a connection to shame and face-saving (Zacchaeus, Ruth, Leah & Rachel, Peter, etc. etc. etc.

Oh, and Jesus. There are those stories.

We Church People are called to help people save face – and God knows we have ample opportunities:

  • The most judgmental couple in the congregation – who regularly condemn people for various reasons – learn that their own daughter is getting divorced. We can secretly embrace schadenfreude. Or we can comfort them as if they never mentioned how spiritually bankrupt we must be for being divorced ourselves.
  • A church staff member is caught stealing money. We can openly share this with everybody. Or we can quietly let this staffer go “for family reasons” or “health reasons” or some other face-saving reason.
  • A 80-something church member’s son commits suicide and she doesn’t want anyone to know how he died. We can whisper the truth in the church parking lot, or we can protect this confidentiality and sit with her for as long as she needs.
  • There’s conflict between the pastor and other leaders, and it’s clear that a change in leadership is needed. We can shame and blame each other. Or we can prayerfully consider what’s honestly best for the church and move accordingly.

Church should be the last place where people are shamed.

We should be The Go-To Place to share our failures, our mistakes, our disappointments, our anxieties, our weaknesses. I see a slow (very slow) shift in how we are the church together in terms of helping people save face. We are slowly moving from a Mad Men Church (“Appearances are everything“) to a Real Life Church (“I am a screw-up and so are you. But there’s grace.“)

What face-saving efforts have you seen in your church lately?

Edith Crawley Needs a Bigger Church

EdithIn light of Lady Edith Crawley’s delicate situation in the first episodes of Downton Abbey Season 4, her grandmother mentioned to Lady Rosamund that Edith needs “cherishing.”  It’s one of the Dowager’s rare pastoral comments.

Edith found holy, sacrificial support both from her grandmother and her aunt, but actually Lady Edith needs a bigger church.  I say this because it is the church’s job – among other things – to cherish God’s children in the thick and thin of life.  A woman with a difficult pregnancy?  She needs to know that she is still loved  in spite of cultural shaming.  A jilted bride?  She needs to know that she is profoundly treasured as God’s own child.  A quirky middle child?  She needs to know that her worth is not based on superficial things.

As I left my former church last Sunday after an invited visit, I felt deeply loved and appreciated, and it was a feeling that everyone should get occasionally.  I remember – as the pastor of that church years ago – talking with parishioners who had never experienced “someone ever being in love with them.”  There were women who married men for security because “that’s what you did.”  But those men had not really cherished them.  There were women who had deeply loved their husbands but that love had not been returned in kind.

There were men in similar situations.  And my point is that we live in a world where love is not guaranteed and – sometimes – even when we love, it is imperfect and disappointing.

We in the church are called to love bomb each other.

While no church can fulfill every person’s every need, we are called to notice and appreciate each other.  We are called to reach out to the lonely and to sit with the grieving. We are called to help the weak and suffering, whether this involves driving someone to the doctor or listening to their stories over tea.  One of our most essential reasons for existing is that we are to love those who are not loved by anyone else.  We are to love even our enemies and those who persecute us.  We are to love strangers and others who are not part of our congregations.

It was not easy to have close relationships in early 20th Century England society.  But we can have that here and now, wherever we are.  Church requires authentic, safe, compassionate, selfless relationships.  Lady Edith could have used a bigger church.  We are called to be that bigger church.

Imagine cherishing someone who feels unloved.  That is church.