Five Generation Church Staffs = Amazing Possibilities

generations of handsFor the first time in U.S. history, it will soon be possible to have five generations working together in the same office.  Generations are – generally speaking – different in terms of their institutional loyalty, expectations, dress codes, organizational structures, and more.

So imagine what it would be like to have – on the same church staff – the Gen X Head of Staff, the Baby Boomer Music Director, the Millennial Office Manager, the Silent Generation Parish Nurse, and the Generation Z communications intern working on her high school service hours.  It could be a disaster or it could be amazing.

What would make it amazing?

  • An attitude that we can all learn from each other.  The seasoned staff person  might have lots of experience working with personnel committees while the youngest staff member might have tech skills that everybody else needs to know.
  • Respect for and enthusiasm about differences.  Instead of feeling disdain over the fact that one staff member wears a suit and heels while another wears jeans and an untucked shirt, appreciate the differences for the way a variety of parishioners can connect. Acknowledge that dress styles mean different things to different people.
  • Patience.  No eye rolling allowed.  No jokes that diminish colleagues and make them feel foolish.
  • No sweeping generalizations:  “You people need to learn how to use google maps.”  “Why is your generation so lazy?”  Not helpful.
  • No cute name-calling:  The youngest members of the staff might indeed be the age of your grandchildren but don’t call them “kids.” The oldest members of the staff might be somebody’s Grandpa, but he’s not yours.  He’s your colleague.
  • No throwing colleagues under the bus.  Honestly this is essential for all church staffs of every age.  Heads of Staff:  support your young colleagues, especially when parishioners criticize them behind their backs.  Young pastors, back your older colleagues. Healthy personnel evaluations don’t happen in church parking lots.

The best staff relationships I’ve enjoyed included a 20-something colleague, three thirty-something colleagues, and a 50-something me.  We learned so much and it made for better ministry for our congregation.

As Generation Z enters the work force in the not-so-distant future and retired people need to keep working because they are pension-less, and all the generations in between have so much to offer, this is a great opportunity to enliven our ministry.  I would love to hear from those of you whose church staffs enjoy broad age diversity.  Anyone?

Imagine Church as a Safe Haven Against Sexual Abuse

Note: This post is a bit disturbing and I honestly ask you to consider stoppingYou are now safe here if you are sensitive.  I include an unidentifiable but difficult detail.  But my hope is that you will note that I share it as an example of what a healthy church looks like.

I, too, have been pondering the whole Duggar family debacle.  One of the best responses is this, written by trendyand2kids.  Amen sister.

In Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass refers to 2000-2010 as “The Horrible Decade” for several reasons – one of which is the fact that in 2002 we all learned that five Roman Catholic priests had been accused of sexually abusing young parishioners.  We learned that the abuse of children had been systematically concealed for decades by the Church.  And it’s ludicrous if we don’t agree that this crime has driven thousands of Roman Catholics – and others – away from the Church.  It’s also ludicrous if we fail to see that Protestants are equally guilty of such crimes.

Sexual abuse of children is among the most heinous crimes imaginable.  I agree with trendyand2kids regarding what Josh Duggar’s criminal activity has wreaked:  Their self image and view of human sexuality for the rest of their lives is now and forever 100% rooted in their first sexual experience, which you forced upon them. They can never get that back, no matter how many times you said you were sorry, or how long you talked to your parents or your church leaders about it. You cannot tearfully “pray away” damage of this magnitude.

But imagine – if we can – the Church being a safe haven against sexual abuse.  I strongly believe that this is both possible and part of our calling and mission.

I looked over the calendar and – over the past three years – I have participated in worship in over 50 different congregations.  I am often asked to lead in The Children’s Message during Sunday worship.  In one particular congregation, while I was sitting with the children, I asked them a question about Jesus or the Bible or something. A couple of the kids offered responses.  And then one very young child quietly said this:  “Sometimes my brother puts his penis in my mouth.” She said it so quietly that I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly.  And I’m sure that the rest of the adults didn’t hear what she said.  She repeated it and I asked her if we could talk more about that afterwards, and she said yes.  So we did with one of the educators and her relative who disclosed that the family was aware of this and she had been advised by her counselor to talk about it with people she trusted.

Friends, meet a healthy church:  A child with a damaging secret feels safe enough to share her secret with trusted leaders in her church.  No one has given her the impression that she will be shamed or shut down.  She is under the impression that she can share most anything that’s on her mind – even something scary.

Imagine a church where even the adults feel safe to share their darkest thoughts and experiences.  Imagine a church in which people can share that life is not perfect or even okay.  Imagine a safe haven, a true sanctuary.

We cannot be that community unless we each have a deep acknowledgement that we are all broken, all in need of shelter, all born to care for each other to the point of self-sacrifice.  We hold each other accountable.  We do not hide our misconduct. We show each other what the love of Jesus looks like.

While feeling angry and perhaps even self-righteous about the Duggar family, what can we do to be a safe church?  It’s a real question.  In a world that is increasingly broken and scary and judge-y, imagine being a community that’s totally safe.

Today’s Pastor’s Wife

PastorswifeUpon my introducing myself as The Pastor’s Wife on a recent Sunday morning, a woman looked so delighted that it made me feel wonderful. And then she said, “It’s so nice to have a pastor’s wife. I’ve missed having a pastor’s wife.” I didn’t mention that she might not see me again for several months.

Needless to say, I am not in my spouse’s worship service very often because 1) I too am a pastor and 2) my own job involves visiting other churches on Sunday mornings. So far in 2015 I’ve preached or taught classes or moderated meetings in fifteen different churches on Sunday mornings. That leaves six Sundays and – on a couple of those – I’ve been out of town for some reason or other. [Note: one of the joys of being a non-parish minister is that I have more control over my weekends. I’m a big fan of Sundays off.]

Another truth of Today’s Pastor’s Wife is that the wife might be a husband. Or The Clergywoman’s Spouse might be another woman or even another Clergywoman.. Or the Pastor could be single. So there you go.

My first field education supervisor was married to a clergywoman and I remember him mentioning that one of the reasons that he and his spouse knew that they could love that congregation was because of this conversation:

Clergyman Candidate During Interview: What are your expectations for my wife?

Pastor Nominating Committee: (confused facial expressions)

CCDI: Do you expect her to fill a certain role?

PNC: (Still looking confused.) What would she like to do?

Correct answer.

What I love about being The Pastor’s Wife:

  1. HH’s congregation is wonderful and I love them. They like having me around but they also support my own ministry. (Thank you, folks.)
  2. I love getting the sermon preview.
  3. I love talking about art and worship and Church World with HH.
  4. I love the opportunity to preach in that pulpit occasionally.

There are still pastors’ wives out there who are expected to direct the choir and bake the brownies and teach Sunday School and good for those who enjoy that part of being married to the professional minister. But keep in mind, gentle parishioners, that your pastor’s family lives a different sort of life. Her/his children are not members of the staff nor are her/his spouse. And if you pastor is single, please be respectful of her/his free time. (I remember as a single pastor that people regularly started late night phone calls by saying, “I’m sorry it’s so late, but I knew I wouldn’t wake up anybody but you.”)

Our culture has changed, both domestically and ecclesiastically. Your pastor’s spouse could be a local professional or a stay-at-home parent or a commuting partner living in another state. One of the best things you can do is accept this and be nothing but encouraging. And if your pastor is single, bless her/him with privacy – unless your pastor authentically wants your matchmaking assistance.

This post is dedicated to two favorite pastors’ wives from my childhood: DHB and HM.

Memorial Day for a Non-Military Family

Mine is not much of a military family.  Memorial Day Mosaic

My dad was drafted during the Korean conflict and he didn’t love that experience.  One of his brothers fought in WWII but  – thankfully – he didn’t die in combat.

My only relative who actually perished in a United States war – as far as I know –  was my great, great grandfather Samuel Robert Edmiston who died on September 18, 1862. You might recognize that date if you are a history lover.

My great great grandfather died from his injuries the day after the Battle of Sharpsburg, also known as the Battle of Antietam – “the bloodiest single-day battle in American history.”  My great great grandfather was fighting against the United States of America.  He was wearing a rebel uniform.  His family owned slaves.

This is shameful to me – both the slave-owning part and the fighting against our country part.  It’s a worse story if you happen to be the great, great grandchildren of those slaves.  There is nothing I can say that will make up for that time in our nation’s history.  Nevertheless, I imagine that my great, great grandfather believed he was doing the right thing and fighting for Something Important.

Regardless of this – my own personal history – this is the day that all of us take some time to reflect upon the sacrifices made by military families.  I am among the privileged whose fathers and grandfathers were kept safe at home, going to college and working on farms and raising their families while so many thousands perished far from the arms of their loved ones.  I am among the privileged whose siblings and cousins did not return home broken after witnessing unspeakable things on battlefields.  I am among the fortunate for whom Memorial Day is a day to wave flags and remember with gratitude – not a day when I weep beside a grave.

Fighting and dying for something bigger than ourselves is something Jesus talked about.  I am grateful for those who have died for the sake of our freedom. I am grateful for those who died believing it was about freedom even when it wasn’t exactly like that.  I am also grateful for people who have died for something bigger in different kinds of war:

There are so many human beings who are more selfless and more committed to justice than I am.  I would like to believe that I would give up my body and my life for Something Important.  Today let’s be grateful for all of them – both in the military and beyond.

Mosaic images of fallen soldiers and where they died (from top right corner, clockwise):  Crispus Attucks (Boston), Pat Tillman (Afghanistan), Sandy Levit (Afghanistan), John R. Fox (Italy), Lindsay Whiteside (English Channel), Lori Piestewa (Iraq), Quentin Roosevelt (France), Kenneth C. Alvarez (Afghanistan), Mary Theresa Klinker (Vietnam), Joanna Dyer (Iraq), and in the center Ernie Pyle (Japan.)

Essential For the Soul

Backyard 5-22-15Imagine a weekend when we can just sit and let The Spirit ooze into our deepest places.  No responsibilities.  No places to go.  No chores.  At least for one day of this three day weekend.

Stare into space at a national cemetery if you wish, or in your own backyard or out your own window.  But stare and notice what we usually overlook. Listen for what usually gets drowned out.

Hoping for a serene Pentecost.  (Is that an oxymoron?)

Site a our backyard wedding three months from today.

Climate Refugees We Have Known & Loved

Dry Bones Nathan Moskowitz 2010The President’s commencement address to the graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy included a few words about climate change and the expected increase in “Climate Refugees” in the future.  Climate Refugees are those who must move because of extreme weather conditions:  drought and desertification have made a place intolerable, cyclones and flooding have caused mass migration. That kind of thing.  “It’s a national security issue,” Obama said.

It’s also a spiritual issue.  It’s been an especially anxious couple of weeks for The Church, and some of that challenge is because of the incidence of Climate Refugees in the church.  You know who I’m talking about:

  • Mass migration out of the church because the climate was too toxic and divisive.
  • Individuals parting ways with their congregations because it felt so dry they were perishing.
  • Families slowly slipping away because the spiritual food was scarce.

There are also the people who leave church for good reasons:  they move away, they die.  And there are people who leave for reasons that we can interpret in several ways:  personal conflicts make church awkward,  a personal life change makes church feel uncomfortable, their children’s schedules or their own schedules have become complicated.

But today I’m thinking about Climate Refugees we have known and loved.  On the one hand, it’s very important to let people go – especially when they can be fed and refreshed elsewhere.  Spiritual journeys shift and sway. What fed me as a child isn’t as satisfying as an adult.  It’s normal and fine.

But the climate our communities create are just that:  created.  Churches are rarely impacted by the weather or environmental issues.

We can create a climate that feeds the soul and we can also nurture a climate that sucks the life out of people.  And remember: the climate impacts everyone in a congregation no matter what my personal experience has been.

Maybe I like it hot and sticky.  Maybe conflict doesn’t bother me and I kind of get a kick out of all the power moves. Maybe I don’t mind the chilly comments or cold stares.  But I am not the church.  We are the church.

How are we creating a climate that truly quenches spiritual thirst and feeds those who were starving in another land?  How are we providing shelter for those who’ve been displaced?  How are we tending to refugees and wanderers?  Are we embracing them or tolerating them?

None of us can spiritually survive in a valley of dry bones.  But climates can change to become life-giving again – at least in the church.

Image source.

This I Believe As Well

It’s been a long week so far and I’m sharing someone else’s words today. From The Charlotte Observer in my home state. Enjoy.

Who Are the Most Creative Leaders in Church Leadership?

I’m a sucker for articles about creative business leaders like this because they introduce me to people I don’t know. And it sparks ideas about how we might be more creative in the non-profit world of spiritual communities. Linda Boff makes boring GE products sound cool. Cameron Piron is creating more precise methods of brain surgery. Katy Fike is dreaming up new inventions to make growing older safer while also finding money for those inventions. I love reading about these people.

So where are the creative non-profit leaders? There are lists of Important Preachers out there. There are lists of best-selling authors who are also church leaders. There are church consultants paid to work with congregations to improve their organization and mission outreach.

But who in the church would you say are the most creative leaders in terms of helping to shift their congregations into a new way of being the church for these days? Who is doing the on-the-ground work? (I’d selfishly like to know because I want to work with them.)

There are many factors that keep us from being creative non-profit leaders:

  1. Administrivia gets in the way. When our people still expect us to spend most of our time creating bulletins and worship power points, and attending meetings, it’s hard to do The Big Things that make a difference in the overall movement of an organization.
  2. Expectations are dated (but still expected.) When church members expect pastors to keep regular office hours so that they can drop by at a whim, that’s a problem. When it’s expected that the pastor -and only the pastor – will offer pastoral car, that’s a problem. No pastor can simultaneously be a 1950s leader and a 2010s leader. They require very different foci.

Many of the middle judicatories in my denomination are seeking new leadership and – from what I can tell – we all want something new. We want creative change agents. We want skill sets that reflect a changing culture (e.g. multicultural outreach, technological know-how, anti-racism chops, mediation proficiency, superior gifts in imagination and communication.)

Who are those people in Church World who both have the creativity AND the leadership to Make Shifts Happen? I’d like to see that list.

Video is a TED Talk featuring Chicago potter and activist Theaster Gates. He was named one of the 100 most creative people by Fast Company in 2015. He has the skills to bring both imagination and impact.

Praying Well with Others

One of 8 Banners in Fountain Hills, AZ Advertising a Series Decrying Progressive Christianity

One of 8 Banners in Fountain Hills, AZ Advertising a Series Decrying Progressive Christianity

I am blessed with three siblings. We are all unified in our love for each other and diverse in our theology. We also agree that none of us has cornered the market on God’s Truth.

With this in mind, I am struck by the campaign of eight churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona who have ganged up on one of their sibling churches whom they deem to be “apostate.”

Those are dangerous words, my friends. (Here‘s the website of the church under attack with their pastor’s response.)

Eight Protestant pastors in Fountain Hills all agreed to preach a series of sermons called “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?” They penned a united op-ed for their local newspaper that you can read here.

[Note: Among the most heinous things written in the article is the reference to the great John Wooden who was indeed all about the basics of basketball, but – another article – Coach Wooden “never imposed his Christian faith on anyone, only insisting that his players ‘have a religion and believe in it.‘” Exhibit A: Kareem Abdul Jabbar who converted to Islam during his years on Wooden’s team. The Fountain Hills Eight have used the wrong example if they believe that John Wooden would have supported their efforts.]

In my house, we do not mess with John Wooden.

The Fountain Hills Eight are asking these questions in their sermons, united against their neighbors in The Fountains United Methodist Church:

  1. What is the difference between “Progressive” Christianity and Biblical Christianity?
  2. Does that difference really matter in a relativistic age?
  3. How can a Christian decipher what he or she should believe?

Slow down gentlemen.

Accusing Progressive Christianity of being different from “Biblical Christianity” reminds me of the time I sat beside a man in an airplane once who told me that he was the pastor of a Bible Church. “That’s so cool,” I said. “I’m the pastor of a Bible Church too. It’s called The Presbyterian United Church of Schaghticoke.”

I take the Bible so seriously that I want to dissect it, study under, over, around, and through it – preferably in the most original languages we have. I want to understand what it meant when it was written, when it was first read, and as we read it today for a 21st Century Church.

  • Do I believe that God never changes? Sort of. Keep in mind that even the Bible shares examples of God changing God’s mind. (Hello Jonah.)
  • Do I believe Mary was a virgin? Sure, but honestly, my faith doesn’t rise or fall on Mary’s virginity. If we found out conclusively somehow that she wasn’t a virgin, would we toss everything thing else?
  • Do I believe that Jesus is The Only Way? Absolutely, but what does Jesus mean by “Wayhere? (And don’t think for a second I’m pulling a Bill Clinton – “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is” – kind of verbal gymnastics.) Scripture speaks of people who speak all the right words but do not live the way of Jesus. God bless the Pharisees who believed they were following the right way only to miss the point completely. I know Muslim, Jewish, and Atheist friends who follow the way of Jesus quite closely. Do they call Jesus “Lord”? Nope. But I trust in a non-Pharisaical God. And it seems that this was the way of Jesus too.

How do we discern what to believe? I suggest reading the Pentecost story very carefully this week. The Spirit continues to work and speak as it happened in Acts 10. God still has no partiality. God still calls us to move in directions that we once believed were unfaithful. God still sends us places we don’t necessarily want to go.

I have brothers and sisters in Christ who interpret Scripture in a different way from how I interpret it. But note: we are all interpreting it. We all consider some verses more essential than others. Not one of us takes it literally, even when we say we do. Rachel Held Evans and A.J. Jacobs are required reading for those who believe it’s possible to take the Bible literally.

God calls us to pray well with others. I believe in the Jesus who had dinner at the home of Zaccheaus the loathed tax collector even at the risk of offending the faithful. I believe in the Jesus who touched an unclean woman even though it would have rendered him unable to enter the temple. I believe in the Jesus who told parables that rocked everything believers had been taught. Helpful Samaritans? Really?

It’s a particular congregation’s choice to worship in the way we will and believe what we do. But we are treading on dangerous cosmic ground if we expend our energies throwing theological stones. It’s the kind of action that sadly supports what too many people believe about the church.

Evidence of the Existence of Satan?

Jesus v SatanOn Tuesday my friend D and I were talking on the commuter train about the high incidence of LBGTQ kids born into conservative evangelical Christian families.

Me:  I’ve come to believe this is evidence of the existence of God.  “You have a hard time with gay people?  Meet your daughter.”

D:  Or the existence of Satan.  You have no idea how terrifying it is to be a gay kid in a family that gives money to organizations that want to arrest gay people. 

My jaw dropped.

I had never once considered this  – mostly because I can be an idiot sometimes.  I was imagining families like this one or this one –  shifting their views because their beloved son or daughter was gay.  I was not imagining the horror of being in a family that would respond by humiliating or condemning or banishing their child.  Or trying to “beat the gay out” of their child.  Or even killing their child.

Lord, have mercy.  I’ll say it again:  I can be an idiot.

Nevertheless, I still believe that God can use everything for good – including the conservative Christian families who are blessed with an LGBTQ child.  When churches like this one provide safe haven in the name of Jesus Christ, I see the hand of God.  When congregations like these make the conscious decision to support LGBTQ people, I see the hand of God.  It reminds me of this verse in Genesis.  God can make something good even out of evil.

In our own lives, in our own congregations regarding LGBTQ people, are we displaying evidence of the existence of God or the existence of Satan?  It’s a real question.

Pew’s latest report on religion in the USA states that 48% of all LGBTQ people self-identify as Christian – which is shocking considering how many congregations do not welcome these folks, much less celebrate their leadership gifts or marriage commitments.  But we can be the kind of communities that love in the likeness of Jesus – further evidence that God changes everything for good.

Next steps:  there are a lot of LGBTQ people out there who most likely do not have church affiliation.  How might we offer a welcoming, nourishing community?

Image source.