ISO Transition Experts

Blooming in Transition

Imagine you are a church whose pastor has just moved on/retired after over ten years of ministry (much less 30 years of ministry.) You need a transition plan.

What you don’t need is:

  • A quick search for a “permanent” new pastor to relieve every anxiety about instability and slowed momentum.
  • A place holder who has a lovely persona but no skills at shifting an organization into a new reality.
  • An aversion to taking a long hard look at who you are and where you are going as a spiritual community (today, not 20 years ago.)

What need as a person trying to serve congregations is a multitude of angels  transitional pastors who:

  • Are skilled in calming anxieties, shifting paradigms, and being a 21st Century cultural tourguide.
  • Are less about finding a job during retirement/unemployment times and more about being called to this kind of ministry.
  • Are seasoned enough to know how to deal with Church World (e.g. rogue personnel committees, piled up administrivia) but with the energy to Work Very Hard with people in transition.
  • Can see clearly in cloudy times and able to guide a congregation through the fog to clarity.

This is essentially a recruiting post for my PCUSA colleagues across the globe.

Please –

  • if you have been ordained for at least five years and have proven yourself effective in parish ministry,
  • if occasional job insecurity doesn’t freak you out,
  • if you like systems work and can love people without making it about you . . .

 – consider becoming a Transitional Pastor (also called an Interim Pastor although that job title seems to freak out congregations, probably because they’ve endured lame Interims in the past.)

If you want me to coach you or convince you or beg you, please send me an email and we’ll talk.  Increasingly – since Every Church Is In Transition – every spiritual community needs excellent transitional ministry.

I am in search of this.



Yikes. There are Too Few Jobs

IBM_Selectric_typeballHappy July – the real beginning of summer if you ask me – especially if you had kids in school into early June and you’re still recovering from the spring rush of activities.  Summer feels like an Independence Day through Labor Day season, and with leisure and labor in mind . . .

I hope everyone will read this article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic: A World Without Work.  The bottom line is that – nationally – there are simply fewer jobs.  

“In 1964, the nation’s most valuable company, AT&T was worth $267 billion in today’s dollars and employed 758,611 people.  Today’s telecommunications giant, Google, is worth $370 billion but has only about 55,000 employees – less than a tenth the size of AT&T’s workforce in its heyday.”

In 1964, there were 10,949 pastors serving churches in the largest branch of Presbyterianism in the United States according to this report.  In 2014 there were 20,383 teaching elders in our denomination – almost twice as many clergy. But there are less “jobs” – fewer churches, fewer multi-staff churches.  Associate Pastor positions are increasingly rare while Specialized (non-parish) Ministry positions are more common.  Increasingly we are ordaining candidates to positions as chaplains, seminary professors, counselors, and community organizers both because our understanding of professional ministry is expanding and because there are fewer congregational positions.

It’s possible that in church and church-related positions, as in the secular world, we are going to “run out of jobs.” The economic historian Robert Skidelsky notes that technological industries require fewer workers because they are more “labor efficient.”  It’s not that we are more “labor efficient” in the ecclesiastical world, but due to shifts in church participation, there will most likely be fewer congregations financially able to afford one or more seminary-trained, professional ministers in the future.

Is this terrible news for people seeking jobs/calls?  Not necessarily – although it’s bound to freak us out a bit.

Imagine a wholly different way of life that’s less about work.  The Atlantic article points out that colleges used to be where we learned culture but now college is increasingly where we learn job skills.  “We used to teach people to be free” said historian Benjamin Hunnicutt.  “Now we teach them to work.”  And work is about money in our current culture.

Yes, we will always have bills to pay (and sadly the debts our generations carry are going to be increasingly painful to handle in the future.)  But we are moving towards some interesting changes in our working world.

The impact upon professional ministry?

  • The closing of some of our seminaries (because we don’t need as many trained clergy.)
  • The expansion of a gig economy for pastors (in which pastors serve as consultants, coaches, spiritual directors – patching together several gigs to create a career.)
  • The expansion of tent-making (although for some people carrying more than one job, it seems unsustainable physically and emotionally.)
  • The incorporation of spiritual practices in traditionally secular work (e.g. nurses with pastoral care chops, accountants who promote philanthropic activities, artisan bakers/furniture makers/mechanics who work with their hands as a devotional act).

These shifts could mark the beginning of a new burst of spiritual awakening.  I hope I get to see it (without freaking out.)

Image of an IBM Selectric Typewriter Ball (circa 1961)

Crafting Souls in the Days of ISIS and The Council of Conservative Citizens

plensa_1I don’t do “crafts.”  I don’t knit,  decoupage, sculpt, or re-cane chairs and I don’t want to.

But crafting is on my mind as I read about “Makerspaces” popping up around the country.  Check out The Idea Foundry in Columbus, Ohio where people create beautiful things in community in a former shoe factory.  Or The Church of Craft with “parishes” in fifteen cities.  Their spiritual practices involve showing love by making things.

We talk about spiritual nurture in our traditional churches, but what if we were clearer about crafting souls?

Nefarious groups throughout the world craft souls for destruction.  ISIS seeks out lonely disconnected people with false promises of love and community. The organization that influenced the young man who assassinated nine souls in Charleston indoctrinates weak, fearful people with erroneous statistics and incendiary stories.

Mommy, why does God let Jews live?”  Todd Blodgett reported hearing a 5 or 6 year old ask this of her mother after attending an Aryan Nation/KKK meeting when he was an undercover officer with the FBI.  We teach our children all kinds of things – intentionally or unintentionally.  What if we, in the church, committed to crafting souls with a wholly different message?

Creativity takes time.  We don’t craft souls by plopping them in front of televisions or dropping them off at Sunday School (so somebody will teach them “good values.”) It happens slowly, lovingly sculpting and shaping souls.  It happens over trusted conversations during walks and around the kitchen table. Crafting souls is more about teaching love than indoctrinating for power and control – although love is the greatest power and a soul controlled by love can do the miraculous.

When SBC was in kindergarten, we took two young friends to a movie and before the movie started, there were a series of slides shown before the previews.  You know those slides:  some advertisements, some announcements.  A Red Cross slide popped up showing a Black firefighter carrying a White child out of a burning building.  One of SBC’s little friends asked me, “Why is that man trying to steal that girl?”

Me:  He’s not stealing her.  He’s saving her from the burning building.

SBC’s Little Friend:  No.  That Black man is trying to take her.  

Me:  No.  He’s saving her life.

As I argued with our young guest, my first thought was “Who is teaching this kid racism?”  My second thought was that I didn’t want SBC playing with her anymore.  But actually, I might have been one of the few people “crafting her soul” for love.

That sounds really obnoxious, doesn’t it?  It makes me sound like my way is the loving way, the only way.  The truth is that we indeed mold our children.  But do we have the right to craft the souls of other people beyond our own circle of families and friends?  I think we do.  I believe, in fact, that this is our calling as followers of Jesus.

Crafting souls is not about indoctrination and hit-and-run evangelizing.  It’s about demonstrating what the love of God looks like.  Sometimes it looks like climbing a flagpole and sometimes it looks like correcting a child lovingly.

Questions to ask as we assess the efficacy of soul crafting in our congregations:

  • Do we offer the educational equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to our children (i.e. quick and easy with very little nutrients)?
  • Do we adopt the trendy practices of other churches without thinking it through (i.e. explaining why we are doing it beyond the fact that it’s supposed to be the next new thing?)
  • Is worship comparable to sitting in front of the television seeking entertainment with little investment or participation?
  • Has church become just one more thing to do each week, like laundry or filling up the gas tank?
  • When was the last time we listened to our neighbor in the pew tell us about her life beyond the most cursory comments?
  • Are we spending a lot of time “in church” volunteering/working and yet that time is making us feel exhausted instead of spiritually fed?

What if we shifted our perspective to see our church lives as being about allowing our own souls to be crafted so that we might be equipped to be spiritual artisans ourselves?

Image is one of Jaume Plensa’s public art projects in Millennium Park, Chicago.

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.


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.