Many times we are working with church structures of a different time. I have seen churches with 50 people attending on Sunday morning, and they maintain 12 committees. There may have been a lot of retirees in the church, so we have committees who meet in the day. Or there might have been a lot of people without children, so everyone meets at night—on a different night, to ensure that the pastor is at every meeting.
For mainline pastors, the Driscoll saga—the conflict at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church leading to the resignation of superstar pastor Mark Driscoll—can seem like a number of things: an entertaining but irrelevant sideshow, a distraction from the real work of God’s kingdom, or the long-overdue fall of someone whose theological views and ideology are so different from ours. We feel so distant from Driscoll and what he stands for that we can almost watch with bemused smiles.
And it’s just this sense of distance that might keep us for seeing this situation the way we should: as a cautionary tale.
This temptation will always remain when we are willing to blindly benefit from and represent a system that is working well for us, without the concrete concern for others that are silenced or stigmatized by that very same system. In the name of making a difference, we can actually begin to help the system be sophisticated in its ability to point to its “change makers” (even though they are merely exceptions to the rule) as evidence of its commitment to anti-oppression.
There’s something very refreshing about being able to laugh. It disarms the situation and takes away the power from the critic. It reminds me not to take myself so seriously. It gives me perspective on the situation. It helps me not to hate myself, because otherwise I’d be crying or drinking. Or, I’d be stuffing it down into my gut, until the toxicity becomes ulcer-sized.
When I began in ministry, men took the time to advise and counsel me. There were few women, and the ones who were there were far away from the rural swamp where I served. They were in more urban areas, miles from the lectionary group where we sipped chicory coffee. It took me years to sort out that I needed to consider the source. I was dealing with different issues than the pastors surrounding me.
In 2006, New Testament scholar Robert Wall and pastor Anthony Robinson coauthored Called to Be Church, a study of the book of Acts. Each chapter of that volume has two sections: Wall provides an interpretation of the biblical text, then Robinson reflects on how the text bears on the life of the church. The format is not unique.
This is the third and final post in a series of interview questions. Montreat Conference Center has an Institute for Church Leadership. Since I will be preaching at their "Leading With Bold Imagination" Conference that is coming up, they asked me a few questions. If you'd like to read the whole interview, here is part one and part two. And if you have a chance to attend the conference, I would love to see you there. Montreat's setting can feed the soul.
Most people who serve as church leaders realize what an important time it is in our religious landscape. Because of demographic, generational, technological and economic shifts, we realize that many churches are coming to the end of their seasons. In this important moment, we will need leaders who can experiment, create, test and plant.