Sorry. Not Sorry. (A Post for Women in Churches)

About a year ago, Pantene Shampoo’s “Not Sorry” ad hit the airwaves and several periodicals picked up the story:  Fast Company.  The Washington Post.  Time.  Just this past Tuesday, it came up again in The New York Times.  Why do women apologize so much?

I’m wondering about this for women of faith:  Do church ladies also apologize too much? Do clergywomen apologize too much?

Apologizing is not about confession. This is not about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev admitting his guilt yesterday.

Maybe “sorry” has simply become another way of saying “excuse me”  – although I have been known to say, “I’m sorry” when somebody stepped on my foot or pushed me accidentally on the train.

Are we more or less likely to say “I’m sorry” in spiritual communities?

Female-on-female hostility exists in many of our congregations and there’s plenty of Biblical precedent for women treating each other harshly.  Today – like always – female parishioners are much more likely to give clergywomen a hard time for countless complicated reasons.

But I don’t see women apologizing to each other over coffee hour misunderstandings or church meeting conflicts.  I can’t remember a time when a parishioner who disrespected her female pastor in a way she would never have disrespected her male pastor apologized.  (Maybe it’s assumed that clergywomen, by virtue of our office, are supposed to forgive and forget, even without acknowledgment of any wrongdoing.)

I wonder if spiritual communities really are different:

  • Do clergywomen say “I’m sorry” less often on the job because We Are Called, and jumping through so many hoops to get to that pulpit has made us confident?
  • Do we women who are active in spiritual communities acknowledge that we (humanly) lose our tempers, over-function, or gossip occasionally and then we gladly apologize to each other?
  • Are we less likely to apologize to each other because confession and forgiveness are assumed?  Or maybe we just don’t like conflict?

What’s been your experience – no matter what your gender – about saying “Sorry” in our congregations or doing ministry of any kind?  Just wondering.

Southern Accents

I have a Southern accent that becomes even more Southern when I talk with my Reynolds Price and Eudora Welty by Jill Krementzpeople in North and South Carolina.  My Southern accent doesn’t mean I’m unintelligent although that’s often the stereotype.

It doesn’t help when Southerners indeed say unintelligent things, but Southerners haven’t cornered the market on stupidity, and ignorant things, unfortunately, come out of the mouths of people from every corner of the earth.

Some of my favorite Southern voices are/were these:

For the record, all of these people are or were brilliant.

As our nation debates the meaning of the Confederate flag once again this week, I am saddened to hear people with Southern accents say foolish things.  I can almost hear the rest of the world whisper “redneck” under their collective breaths.

I remember too many times when people with Southern accents have been mocked because “Southern” = “stupid” for many.   I also remember the White Boston police officer with the strong southside accent tell two Black friends that they were not allowed in a certain neighborhood after dark (although that’s where they lived.)   And I remember my former parishioner with the upstate NY accent tell his hospital roommate that “we don’t allow Black people in our church so don’t bother visiting.”  And I remember my White neighbor with the Midwestern accent ask me why I would ever drive through Harvey, IL when I could take a “safer” route.

People say ignorant things in every accent.  The hope is not that we learn how to speak in a more neutral accent like newscasters.  The hope is that we learn to speak with more wisdom and tolerance.  The hope is not that we speak louder. The hope is that we listen better.

Image of Reynolds Price and Eudora Welty who had Southern accents.  Source.

Friends Who Are Going to Hell (Or Not)

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?  What agreement does Christ have with Beliar*? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God;  2 Corinthians 6:14-16a

Nine Circles of Hell by BotticelliIt’s old news, of course, that fewer people are claiming any religious affiliation. Friends might be “historically Lutheran” or Roman Catholic-ish, but – unless we church people are extremely parochial or sheltered – many of our classmates, work colleagues, and neighbors do not share our faith.

Imagine being a follower of Christ with few, if any, Christian friends.  If you were raised on 2 Corinthians 6 like I was, you know full well that being “mismatched with unbelievers” is frowned upon, not only in terms of dating and marriage but also in terms of basic friendships, because we could be negatively influenced by such “friends.”

The problem with having no non-Christian friends is that we lose all perspective. We forget that not everybody talks about “being unevenly yoked” or “being a stumbling block.”  Most people in the world have no idea what a narthex or a chancel might be.  They increasingly don’t know the words to the hymns and praise songs that – we believe – “everybody knows.”  They have heard of Noah and the Good Samaritan but they don’t know the stories.  They heard that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin but they would be hard pressed to find those verses in the Bible.  (Note:  most self-identifying Christians would also be hard pressed to find those verses much less have any exegetical analysis of those verses.)

I believe that – if we have no non-Christian friends – it’s almost impossible to follow Jesus.  I’m not talking about the neighbor down the street who doesn’t seem to go to church but we wave to each other when walking our dogs.  That person is not my friend; that person is a stranger who lives in my neighborhood.

I’m talking about people who are born-again agnostics and people who are pretty sure that there is no god.  I’m talking about the devout Muslim guy across the street  who comes over for cookouts or the Jewish colleague with whom we carpool and talk about our kids.  Having non-Christian friends keeps us honest. It reminds us that there are some people out there who follow the way of Jesus although they wouldn’t see it that way.  It’s just that they might remarkably kind. They make sacrifices for strangers and – except for that whole “they don’t go to church” part – you would probably want them to raise your kids if you dropped dead because they are among the best human beings you know.

The best evangelists are the ones who live out their faith in the worst possible situations.  Nadine Collier is one of those people.  So are the other relatives of the nine Charleston victims who spoke words of forgiveness less than three days after Dylann Roof killed their precious people.

We who were raised on the notion that conversion was our life’s work if we wanted to get into heaven need to remember that this was in fact not the way of Jesus.  His friends included people who were not considered “the faithful.”  He just loved them.  He showed them what the love of God looks like.

We may find that our non-Christian friends love us better than we love them. And we may even be surprised who lands in heaven.

Imagine of Botticelli’s Map of Hell (late 15th Century)

*Beliar is a word for Satan.

“I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About”

I was in a church a while back with a history of serious conflict. I’m talking about150408-north-charleston-sc-rally-1038a_869f60d4f5ff96fd5b5ab72b5fbd4e15 member-on-member violence. (And we wonder why people find churches unappealing.)

In the course of addressing this conflict in the church meeting, one nice lady said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve never seen any conflict in this church.

My friends, this is part of our national problem: we “never see” the conflict.

The Washington Post reported yesterday thathalf of all Whites see no racism around them.” Have we driven through our own neighborhoods? Have we listened carefully to our own comments? Have we read the newspaper or watched the news on television? Have we noticed the huge disparity in how black and brown people are treated versus how white people are treated?

We don’t see it because we don’t want to see it. I have many sisters and brothers in Christ whose mantra (sorry for the mixed metaphor) is Philippians 4:8 to the point that they find it unattractive or unfaithful to mention that There Are Ugly Things In The World.

God would not have had to live among us had the world been without ugliness or pain or brokenness. What is our spiritual problem?

For one thing, our spiritual problem is that: We Do Not See The Racism Around Us. If we did, we would not wave Confederate flags. If we did, we would not call black and brown killers “terrorists” and white killers “mentally ill.”

Jesus said quite a bit about blindness and deafness.

Look Out for Sick People

prodigal son bishops garden national cathedral

Maybe this is a mission statement we can all embrace:  Look Out for Sick People.

I just spent 2 hours in traffic due to the Hurrah For The Blackhawks Parade and between the horn blowing and helicopters hovering overhead, I’ve been trying to get my head around the shooting in Charleston.  This post is not about sharing my take on the situation.  [Note:  We should all be reading Rocky Supinger.]

This post is about figuring out how to do something positive about a catastrophic situation in our country involving bigotry, guns, and mental illness.

Sure, we can pray.  The only relief I can muster is the fact that the victims were literally in prayer or just finished being in prayer when they died.  We can only hope that we all die in a state of spiritual connection.  I have no doubt about the eternal peace of those victims.

The sick feeling in my gut is about the young man who apparently sat for about an hour in that prayer service himself only to shoot his brothers and sisters before he left.  Only God knows what this deeply sick person was thinking while sitting in a room called a sanctuary with a gun in his hands.

Had his hands been folded in prayer prior to the shooting?  Lord have mercy.

HH and I are slowly watching the 3rd season of OITNB and the first two episodes are particularly disturbing in terms of the children in the plot lines. The first episode of Season 3 shows children visiting their mothers at the prison for Mothers’ Day and it’s clear that many human beings (people with children and people without children alike) have no idea how to treat people, much less how to treat little people.  For a myriad of reasons, we do not understand what breaks a person.  Some children grow up traumatized from the get-go.

The second episode features a “father” who is violent, reckless, selfish, evil, and deeply disturbed.  The assorted kids under his care are doomed until someone intervenes. One of the reasons that I watch this show is because it shows some of the real life that I’ve seen as a pastor.  Most of my privileged world never sees this side of life although it is real and closer to us than we would like to believe.

The past few hours have made me . . .

  1. Profoundly grateful for public school teachers and staff who model healthy behaviors, especially in light of children who do not have such models at home.
  2. Sure that we are called to be kind to all people, even (especially) the troubled ones.  (Note:  people will persecute us for being kind to the likes of Dylann Roof or Eric Casebolt.  And being kind doesn’t erase accountability.)
  3. Longing to learn how to respond to sick people.  What do we do when someone is acting out at a public pool?  In a church?  How do we intervene when someone is clearly dealing with mental illness?

There are many times during each day when I question the efficacy of the institutional church in terms of transforming the world for good.  But today I believe, more than ever, that we in the church have been called to create communities that look out for sick people, tend to hurt people, and model what it looks like to love like Jesus.

Image is The Prodigal Son from The Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral in DC.

Dinosaurs

Apparently Rachel Dolezal’s parents are Young Earth Creationists who believe Land of the Lost
that human beings walked the earth with dinosaurs. And Jurassic World is a box office sensation. And thriving businesses are slowly ridding their boardrooms of dinosaurs for the sake of the company.

But who are the dinosaurs in church leadership?

  • Dinosaurs are not necessarily older. I recently heard a 30-something leader refer to other leaders in her congregation as her elders, her organist, and her treasurer. (Please don’t do that.)
  • Dinosaurs are not necessarily dimwitted. The sauropod might have had a tiny brain, but many of our most old-fashioned leaders are very bright.

Dinosaurs – whether we are talking about pastors, elders, or whole congregations – are not extinct (yet.) What can we do now to prevent extinction in the future?

This is what so many of us in the 21st Century Church are trying to figure out. What can we do now to ensure that the future is not fraught with dead bones?

Another White Guy

White GuySome of my favorite people are White Guys. There are three in my immediate family and over thirty in my extended family of brothers, cousins, uncles, in-laws, etc.  Most of my clergy colleagues are White Guys.  Most people running the country are White Guys and many of them are smart and interesting.

31% of the population in the United States are White Guys.  But projections show that by 2043, White People will no longer be the majority.  Some people love this trend and some feel anxious.

A twenty-something male friend recently shared how tough it is to be a White Male these days and I tried to listen without strangling him.  He is getting a tiny taste of what it’s been like for minorities and even White Women for a while now.  I further delved into this phenomenon of  White Guy Anxiety by interviewing The White Guy I Live With:

Me:  Do you feel any anxiety about being a White Guy?

TWGILW:  I don’t. I’m a White Guy.  I can’t do anything about that.  And I don’t feel threatened by the trends you’re citing.  I try, however, to make sure that my words and actions are sensitive to people who don’t happen to be White Guys.

[Note: This is one reason why I married TWGILW.]

This post is not intended to slam White Guys in any way. My bigger concern is that we who are not White Guys find positive ways to help shift the culture.  If most of the people in power right now happen to be White Guys, here are some thoughts about what is not helpful:

  • Mocking them (although it’s tempting.)
  • Treating them the same disrespectful ways we who are not White Guys have been treated.
  • Sabotaging them – again the way that some of us who are not White Guys have been sabotaged.

Jesus said it best.

And here are additional thoughts about what might be helpful as our culture shifts:

  • Remind search committees  – and others in charge of seeking new leaders  – that diversity of all kinds makes a community more creative and vital.
  • Connect with White Guys who get that.

A fairly constant comment I hear (and say myself) these days is:  Another White Guy got the job.  Let’s hope that – when it still happens – they are the ones who are unafraid to open doors for those of us who are not.

Image source.

Closing Our Own Churches

Yesterday someone said to me: We don’t church_closed_trust you because we think you want to close our church. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that and it won’t be the last.

The truth is, though, that those churches are usually closing themselves.

That sounds really harsh and I don’t mean to be disrespectful.  But congregations on the cusp of closure are often there because they’ve made choices that have risked the future of the church they love. Among those poor choices:

  • They chose to make their pastor the professional Christian, believing that it’s the pastor’s job (and only the pastor’s job) to do ministry.
  • They chose to morph into a club, more worshipful of their building than God.
  • They chose to perpetuate an institution rather than make disciples or love their neighbors.
  • They chose mission that either separated them from the community they were trying to serve (“We’ll send money but we don’t really want to know those people“) or elevated them over the community they were trying to serve (“We go down and help those people because they are too uneducated/irresponsible to help themselves.“)
  • They chose to become landlords (renting their property to “tenants”) over engaging in relational ministry (using their buildings as tools for ministry with partners whose names and needs they actually know.)
  • They chose the wrong pastor or they chose not to listen to the right pastor.
  • They chose to do ministry on the cheap even when they could afford more.
  • They chose to forego basic building maintenance to the point that maintenance became impossibly expensive.
  • They chose to allow ineffective volunteers and paid staff to keep their jobs too long.
  • They chose to leave the praying, the Bible study, the continuing education to the person who went to seminary.
  • They chose to hold their pastor to impossible standards.
  • They chose to devote their congregational efforts to something less than God.

Yep, that sounds severe, but it’s sadly true.  Before denominational leaders have the conversation about a church’s plans for the future (which might mean closing so that a new congregation might be resurrected in their place) it’s almost always the case that church members have unwittingly made choices that are killing their ministry.

Sometimes reboots are not possible because the culture is beyond shifting.  But sometimes reboots are indeed possible.  Again:  another choice.

I want your church to thrive and make an impact in the name of Jesus Christ. I don’t want your church to close if you are truly and authentically ready to choose a completely different way of being the church.

Image source.

OK, We Need Both Leaders & Managers (But We Mostly Need Leaders)

pushpull

Years ago, I read several books telling me that Pastors Should Not Be Managers. Managers make the trains (or liturgies) run on time.  Managers solve problems.  Managers direct.  Managers address needs.  Managers are reactive. Managers placate.  Managers in churches are – if a congregation can afford it – are also called Church Administrators.

The 21st Century Church is craving leaders.

In small congregations, when the Pastor is Administrator, Secretary, Custodian, Christian Educator, Youth Director, Web Master, Music Leader, Volunteer Coordinator, Therapist, and . . . Pastor, being a Leader either 1) doesn’t happen or 2) happens at the expense of the website being updated or the confirmation class getting permission slips, or the piano being tuned.

A classic HBR article explains it all here.

It’s a serious question:  What do we do when a congregation of 20-50 people seeks to be the church in these days?

If they are both well-heeled and committed, a congregation of 20-50 members can – perhaps – afford a full-time pastor.  But chances are they cannot also afford a FT or PT anything else. And nobody doing Everything has the time to also be the Vision Caster or the Global Ponderer or the Equipper of Managers.  And  so we have many smaller congregations (in the PCUSA in 2010, 3,001 churches had less than 50 members) that are floundering because the pastor either:

  1. Is okay with being a manager, but nobody’s looking into the future and the church will probably close when the pastor retires.
  2. Is wanting to Look To The Future but the church has a culture of the pastor managing everything and so she/he is The Frustrated Leader.
  3. Is wanting to Look to The Future but the church has a culture of the pastor managing everything and so she/he is Casting a Vision and nobody can find the pencils.

I was blessed to meet some excellent Small Church Leaders recently and here’s how ministry happens well:  The Leader has the skills to teach members to manage the ministry.  And those members truly want to do ministry.  They do not wear figurative bibs expecting the pastor to feed them bite by bite.  They want to make guests feel welcomed.  They want strangers to find schedules and directions.  They want the sick to be fed and the lonely to be visited.  They want walls painted and floors vacuumed so that the atmosphere is fresh and clean.

We have too many congregations led by Pastor Managers rather than Pastor Leaders.  Smaller congregations can thrive in the 21st Century only if members want to thrive.  Only if Pastors are allowed to ask questions and point to the future.  So, here’s my question:

What’s the best way to teach this to our churches?  (It’s a real question.)

Image Source.

P is for Paradigm Shift (or How to Take Somebody a Casserole in the 21st C. Church)

CasserolesAfter making my “P is for Paradigm Shift” pitch at a retreat last weekend, one thoughtful church leader asked, “I understand that we have to do it.  But can you give an example of how we do it?

Pastorally.

Take casseroles, for example. Congregations have organized the sharing of consecrated casseroles for decades.  If you have a new baby, if you are recovering from surgery, if you are new neighbor – and you are part of a church community – chances are that somebody will bring you a casserole.

To be perfectly honest, it may not be a casserole these days.  It could be a pizza from a local restaurant or it could even be a gift card to Panera.  But the casserole is classic.

I know a church that found itself in a paradigm shift over casseroles and it went like this:

  • The older ladies wanted to take casseroles to moms with new babies in their congregation.
  • The new moms were grateful for the gesture.
  • The older ladies baked those casseroles (and side dishes) using their best heirloom china because that’s how their generation expressed lavish hospitality. You serve your best recipes in your best dishes.
  • The new moms were extremely anxious that 1) they’d break the heirloom china and 2) they’d have to wash the serving pieces and then pack up the baby with the heirloom china and then return the heirlooms to the donor.  Imagine the added anxiety if mom had given birth to twins and there were two babies to get into car seats.  With heirloom china.
  • The older ladies believed that the new moms felt isolated and so they often stayed for an hour or so, during which they offered tips to the new moms on how to clean their houses and take care of themselves and the baby.
  • The new moms felt too tired for a long visit.  And housekeeping/self-care/baby-care tips made them feel judged.

An intervention was required.

After some friction between the heirloom china ladies and the new moms, someone approached a church leader to ask if the new moms might come up with a list of helpful suggestions for anyone volunteering to provide a meal for future new moms or families in need.  “Great idea!” said the church leader.  And so they did:

  • Please call before dropping by.
  • Please ask about allergies or food restrictions.
  • Please bring meals in disposable containers.

Some of the older ladies felt hurt and angry.

  • They dropped off meals when they were out running errands and they didn’t know exactly when they’d be stopping by.
  • They don’t understand what’s up with all these peanut allergies and “nursing mothers should be eating meat.”
  • They thought disposable containers were tacky.

This is perhaps an extreme example of generational changes in assumptions that require honest conversation and grace.  When the culture shifts, it doesn’t mean that the old ways were bad; it’s just that things have changed in terms of convenience and norms.

And the point of sharing meals with those in need is that it’s about those in need, right?  It might make us feel good to offer this service, but it’s not about us. Another paradigm shift:

It's not about you

And another one:

Be the Church

We make cultural changes not for the sake of making changes.  We make cultural changes and paradigm shifts for the sake of others:  the ones not yet with us, the ones with the most pressing needs, the ones who are new/hurt/on the fringe.

21st Century Church leaders do not focus on the ABCs (attendance, building, and cash.)  We focus on the NOPs (the neighbors, organizational structure, and paradigm shifts.)  Yes, this is old news in this year of our LORD 2015.  But we still need little reminders.

Get out there and be the church!  And consider taking somebody a meal in disposable dishes.