Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Converting the Church for the 21st Century

A few pithy comments to wake us from our slumbers about life in today's church:

  • "We are out there on the cutting edge of the uncontroversial." Martin Amis
  • "When we all think alike, no one thinks very much." Walter Lippman
  • "A pastor won't solve all our problems." --a member of a pastor nominating committee
  • "We're in a state of transition."- Another honest member of a pastor nominating committee

All churches are in a state of constant transition, as are all of us as individuals. Some churches and some people recognize this.

I've been reading a new book recently titled The Hidden Lives of Congregations by Israel Galindo, published by the Alban Institute. Galindo teaches ministry to seminarians and engages in a great deal of consulting and leadership training for churches. One of Galindo's chief observations is that churches are often unaware of the dynamics that are shaping their lives and futures.

Stay around long enough as a congregation, Galindo observes, and sooner or later; "One of the most powerful of the hidden life forces (emerges)-- the congealing effect of settling into a maintenance mentality more focused on self-preservation than on mission."

Galindo then goes on to cite another author and consultant for churches, Eddie Hammet, and his comments in Making the Church Work. Hammet lists some indicators that provide evidence of a church's drift into a maintenance posture:

  1. When committee meetings focus on institutional concerns (budgets, maintenance, and relationships) rather than on mission concerns (reaching new people groups, reconciling/relationship, rallying to change the injustices in the community and/or world.)
  2. When budget planning begins with what we have to work with rather than what God has in mind for us.
  3. When annual planning consists of doing what we did last year, just on another calendar date (or maybe even on the same date one year later).
  4. When most conversations revolve around meeting the needs of those in attendance rather than on reaching out to those who are not in attendance.
  5. When planning, budgeting, and calendaring revolve around institutional buildings and schedules rather than around the needs, conveniences, and comfort zones of those outside the organization.
  6. When preserving programs, traditions, and rituals get more meeting time, dialogue time, and budget than creating and resourcing new strategies to reach the unchurched, lost, and broken world;
  7. When people's intent and energy focus more on humoring those in the pew than on penetrating their communities, families, and work-places for the cause of Christ.

Distill all this down to one observation, and you come to the balance or more likely out-of-balance dynamic of the Inward and Outward dimension of a church's life. Ask yourself this question. Is your church tilted more in the inward direction of the church's life? Or does your church seek to be inwardly strong in order to embrace a strong, passionate outward focus on a hurting world and the people around you? Now that would be a worthwhile conversation to hold!

What do you think?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Big Trifecta!

Last Saturday, we celebrated the graduations of two of our sons from the University of Missouri-Columbia. What a day! And this coming Saturday we all get together as a family to celebrate our youngest son's graduation from high school. Amazing! Three graduations in the space of two weeks. As a close family friend remarked, "You never anticipated all this when you were having three sons, did you?" I've taken to thinking there needs to be a support group for parents with this many graduations. But I wouldn't trade the experience for any thing in the world.

Was I ready to become a parent when I got married? Absolutely not! But then life has a way of changing you. I've come to see that sometimes we have to grow into what we need to be, in order to do the things we're meant to do.

Two books informed some of my parenting along the way, in the early years of our sons growing up. "The Wonder of Boys" and "A Fine Young Man" by Michael Gurian played a key role in how I came to understand what it means to help boys grow into manhood. Yes, there is wonder in the experience of being a father and a parent. My wife will have to speak for herself in what it was like for her. But as for me, I know that I've become a better human being and a better man for having been a father to our three sons. I've grown up with them.

I guess I'm also experiencing the first signs of the empty nest stage as well. All kinds of feelings surface in me in recent days, feelings of elation and feelings of some sadness at thinking my sons are moving toward their own independent lives. But then, that was always the goal. Now, there are some new dimensions of our relationship to savor. While I'll always be a father to my sons, I also realize I'm becoming their friend as well. It's a delight to move in this direction.

A friend in the church stopped by one morning to ask how I was doing. My friend has young adult children as well, and she's navigated some changes in her relationships with them as well.
My friend also knew the mix of feelings I was having. And as a pastor, it was wonderful to be on the receiving end of some pastoral care from a member of the church. Pastors are human beings! As my friend commented, our young adult children don't stop relying on us. They just come to us with a different set of questions and issues.

My oldest son graduated from medical schoool, our middle son finished his undergraduate studies in preparation for grad school at my alma mater the Univerisity of North Carolina, and our youngest son heads off to the University of Missouri where he plans to enter the School of Journalism his junior year. There are fine young men. And I have come to embrace a need for our society to focus on the need to help boys grow into manhood, when so many boys do not have fathers actively involved in their lives. In some ways, I've been a mentor to many boys through my involvement in Boy Scouts and youth sports and church youth groups. It isn't just my own boys that I've cared about; through the years I came to know their friends as well.
That has been a great joy as well.

As I see my sons embark on the next stages of their journey in life, I am reminded also of how important it has been for me to pass on a sense of call or vocation to them that goes beyond just deciding what job they want to have one day.

With these sons of mine, I've also sought to pass on what novelist and theologian and preacher Frederick Buechner has offered about finding our purpose in life.

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."