Tag Archives: leadership

A Sermon on WX 2015: How Jesus uses Stumbling Blocks and Useless Salt

Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me…

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

It seems like the disciples may have finally pushed Jesus over the edge this week.

Peter was rebuking Jesus a couple weeks ago, which caused Jesus to answer by calling Peter Satan and telling him to start getting with the program or else. Last week, Jesus found the disciples arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest, and Jesus’ annoyance was clear.

But this week, John, the beloved disciple, comes to Jesus with a dubious complaint. He says, “Someone was casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because we not following us.”

Wow, John… Is this grade 3 where we tattle to the teacher?

Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Jesus said, “if you want to become my followers, deny yourselves…”

John has clearly not been paying attention.

And we know that Jesus in Mark’s gospel can be harsh. He called the Syrophoenician woman a dog a few weeks back.

But Jesus’ response to John is more than harsh. Jesus really rips into John and other disciples for failing to get it.

“If would be better to be tossed into the ocean with a millstone around your neck, than to be a stumbling block to one of these littles ones.” Jesus begins.

“Cut off your hand if it is the problem. Cut off your foot if it is getting in your way. Tear out your eye if necessary.”

If throwing people into the ocean to die, or cutting off body parts sounds extreme it’s because it is extreme. But this is not an instructional manual on how to deal with sin.

Jesus is trying once again to make the disciples get it. To make the disciples understand just how much they are getting in their own way. He is trying to express just how frustrating it is to have a bunch of followers who are so focused on themselves and how he doesn’t have time for John’s self-centred non-sense.

It goes without saying that we might be uncomfortable with this frustrated Jesus. And not just because Jesus is supposed to be gentle and nice, but because John’s actions are familiar to us. We too struggle with wanting to be clear with who is in and who is out when it comes to our families, friends, neighbours and churches. We don’t have to look much farther than the niqab and citizenship ceremony debate to be reminded.

Last weekend, I attended the Why Christian? Conference in Minneapolis. There, I was reminded of just how much like John we can be.

The conference was organized as a response to the vast majority of other conferences for Christians that exist. Most conferences feature white, male, middle aged and older speakers who are brought in as experts to lecture attendees. If women or people of colour are asked to speak, it is usually tokenism. One women out of 20 men. One person of colour out of 20 white speakers. And women speak to women’s issues. People of colour speak to issues facing ethnic minorities. They are never asked to experts on the real stuff.

Why Christian? was not a women’s conference. But the two organizers were women. A Lutheran Pastor from Denver and a Christian Author and Blogger from Tennessee. And all 11 of the keynote speakers were women. Straight women, gay women, women of colour, young women, transgender women. And all of them pastors, authors, writers, professors and leaders in Churches throughout the United States. All of them have been and still are being told that they shouldn’t be allowed to do their work, to lead people of faith because of their gender, the colour of their skin, because of who they love, because of their age, because of their tattoos or their voices or the clothes they wear or any number of arbitrary reasons.

It makes us wonder… what would have John the disciple said to Jesus about them?

John would have objected and tattled on them too.

But here is the thing about John.

Jesus called John out of a fishing boat and John has forgotten that. Jesus called him even though the people in power, proper upstanding appropriate people would have objected to Jesus calling a lowly fisherman to be the disciple of an important rabbi, to a position of status and privilege.

Or maybe John hasn’t forgotten… and maybe that is why he is tattling on this person who is out doing Jesus’ work in the world despite not being part of the club. John is worried that Jesus might replace him. John and the other disciples had just failed at casting out demons… Jesus might be on the lookout for new and improved disciples who can get the job done.

John should know better than to tattle on the outsider, because he has been one too. John as been both an outsider and an insider. Both one who has been deemed unworthy and now one worthy of privilege.

And whatever the reason John is tattling to Jesus, whether he has forgotten where he comes from or whether he is afraid… maybe Jesus’s extreme frustration with John has less to do with the fact of John being a stumbling block and more to do with that thing inside of John, the source of that forgetfulness and fear that is keeping John from realizing just who gets to gate-keep the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is frustrated because John’s sinful self is making him forget that Jesus decides who is in and who is out. Not John, not us.

As I listened last weekend to speakers who almost certainly wouldn’t have been given the chance to speak at any other Christian Conference, it was incredible to hear these women tell their stories, and as the name of the conference, Why Christian? suggests, answer the question of Why Christian? Why continue in a religion, tradition and institution that so often seeks to silence their voices in the very name of these women follow.

It was incredible to hear these women speak because even as they all had stories where some well intentioned but misguided disciples like John had told them that they weren’t worthy of doing God’s work because of their gender, their skin colour, their sexual orientation, their impropriety… even as they all their stories of being shut down and pushed to outside by John…

They also had stories of being welcomed and brought back in by Jesus.

They told the 1000 of us who gathered in beautiful and appropriately named St. Mark’s cathedral about the ways in which Jesus continually draws them back to Christianity. How Jesus draws them in by being outraged along with them at the injustice they experience. How Jesus draws them in by declaring that they are beloved and that they belong. How Jesus draws them in through the grace and mercy filled word of God, draws them in through the cleansing water of baptism, draws them in through bread that gets faith under our fingernails in the Lord’s Supper, draws them in through the community that swirls around in the cup of wine.

They told us how Jesus continually draws them back and offers them a place in the Kingdom.

And the stories those women told about Why Christian? tell us something about us.

We are all like John.

We have all been both the ones on the inside and on the outside. We have been told we aren’t good enough to do God’s work and we have told others the same. And we have done so because of our forgetfulness and our fear.

We have done so because of our sin.

And just when Jesus is enraged by the fact that we don’t get it. Just when he seems to be annoyed to the extreme with John and us.

Jesus pulls it back together and Jesus talks about salt.

Salt that acted as currency, food preservative, and fertilizer. Ancient impure salt that had the habit of going bad and becoming useless. Salt that once it became flavourless white powder had no purpose.

No purpose but one.

To be thrown on the roads where it helped keep the roads flat and walkable.

Kind of opposite to stumbling blocks.

Even though like John, we get in the way of our brothers and sisters, even though we have a habit of making things messy and complicated. Even though our sinful selves prevent us from seeing what Jesus is up to… Jesus has a use for flavourless salt.

Jesus has a use for people on the inside who are afraid of losing their place. And Jesus has a use for people on the outside who are excluded because of their gender, their skin colour, their sexual orientation, their voices and tattoos, their lowly jobs and lack of social standing.

Jesus has a use for us.

Because we are both. We are insiders and outsiders. We are tattling on each other and the ones being tattled on. We have been the ones trying to be gate-keepers, and we have all been told we aren’t good enough.

And for Jesus… none of that matters.

Because Jesus decides who gets to be part of the club, who gets to be disciples, who gets to speak, and teach, and serve on his behalf.

And Jesus decides that his kingdom will be full of stumbling blocks AND useless salt. Jesus decides that is Kingdom will be full of people just like you and just like me.

Insiders and outsiders

All beloved by God.

Amen. 

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6 Ways Churches do Ministry like We are Dying Anyways… (or how keeping everyone happy is killing us)

When I talk to colleagues and church members it doesn’t take long to hear stories of congregations and churches fighting over the details of ministry: the style of worship, the number of staff to hire, the colour of the carpet, the need to have a Sunday School (even in churches with few or no kids).

Most of the fighting is about opinion and preference rather than issues of substance. Churches are great at having disagreements over the details and turning the details into insurmountable differences. A good friend of mine (also a pastor) has often said, “Church politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.”

Image source - http://donutchurch.com/tag/comfortable/
Image source – http://donutchurch.com/tag/comfortable/

Church leadership, church boards, staff and pastors wring their hands and tying themselves in knots trying to keep churches happy. I know pastors who run around 7 days a week working themselves to death trying to be everywhere, do everything and make sure everyone gets what they want from church. It is almost comical that so many of us consider this “ministry.”

As I was writing my sermon for last Sunday, it occurred to me that a ministry focused on making people comfortable and happy is doomed. In fact, it sounds eerily like palliative care.

The amount of palliative care ministry that many congregations are doing is incredible.

Now to be clear, true palliative care for those facing the end of life, particularly with illness is very important work – holy work even. However, when the regular ministry of the church starts to look like the holy work of making people comfortable as they face the end of life, we have a problem.

Here are some examples:

1. Trying to keep everyone happy.

Hospitals generally try to treat illnesses and make people better. Schools try to teach and form students. But the only institution that I can think of, whose chief goal is keeping people comfortable, is a hospice or palliative care institution. Churches and Pastors whose primary aim is keeping people happy are basically doing palliative care.

2. Focusing exclusively on people already here.

Churches have become really good at focusing on insiders. Churches worry about what their members will think about new initiatives or programs. They are concerned about losing even a single discontent member and are constantly searching for any hint of displeasure among the rank and file. Churches like this worry about new people showing up and upsetting the established, delicate balance. Palliative care is about focusing on those in the program, not about seeking new patients.

3. Avoiding conflict at all costs.

When there is only a limited amount of time left, why ruin it by fighting? Avoiding conflict is rooted in the hopes that problems will just go away if we ignore them. And the reality ism in palliative care most problems do just go away eventually – you know, that whole death thing. Death is a great problem solver. When churches simply brush conflict under the carpet, they are hoping it will just go away. And yet, the only way conflict goes away in churches is if all those involved die… and even then it can linger.

4. Being comfortable.

Comfort is a big concern for those in palliative care. It is also a big concern in churches. Many churches want members, visitors, seekers, basically anyone who enters to feel comfortable. They say things like, “people shouldn’t have to work to understand what is happening.” “It should feel like you are in the comfort of your own home.” “Church should be casual and welcoming – make people feel comfortable in their own skin.” Last time I checked, comfort was not really on high on Jesus’ priorities. I don’t recall him ever praising anyone saying, “Your faith has made you comfortable.”

5. Everything becomes about preference.

Churches worry a lot of about people liking things. We fight over getting our own way when it comes to worship, programs, facilities, planning. How we worship, the bibles we read, the food we eat, the chairs we sit in, the paint colour on the wall all becomes a matter of preference. Pastors and leadership can start to worry whether they have provided the right mix of preferences for members. We become like a nurse asking if a patient wants more pillows or blankets, chicken or beef for dinner.

6. We talk a lot about decline and dying.

Maybe the biggest resemblance to palliative care is when churches begin talking a lot about decline and dying. Now, I am not saying we should avoid identifying trends and history. But unlike someone with a terminal illness, it takes a certain amount of hubris (conscious or unconscious) to think we are finally the ones who will kill all our churches. But more importantly, churches are not terminal patients. Imagine someone who gets to a certain age, starts getting a few grey hairs or wrinkles, maybe has some aches and pains, and then starts talking all the time about dying imminently. It seems absurd. Because it is absurd. Yet this is what so many churches are doing whenever they meet to discuss and plan their future.

As I said before, true palliative care and palliative care institutions do important work. They provide care and dignity to people who are facing their last days. Please don’t take what I am saying to be a condemnation of that work, but rather a lens through which to see how we as pastors, leaders and church folk are approaching ministry.

When our ministry as churches and congregations takes on the character of palliative care, we have lost the plot. We become insular groups of people, looking after our own and worst of all, waiting to die (even if we don’t know it).

Comfortable-Georgian-Church-Interior-DecorBut the thing is, God doesn’t do palliative care. As far as I can remember, Jesus never helps people die in the gospels. God is about Life. New Life. Abundant life. Life where there should only be death. God doesn’t make us comfortable as we die. God makes us uncomfortable so that we can live.

And I would like to say that I don’t have answers for how to turn self-centred ministry to our dying selves into life-giving God-focused ministry…

But I do know.

We all know.

  • Stop talking about how we are dying all the time. Or at least recognize that our dying is only a part of God’s alive making.
  • Turn our focuses outward, stop worrying so much about people who are in the pews already and think about ministry to those who are not in the pews… yet.
  • Conversation. Dialogue. Talking. Communicating. We need to talk less about the things we like or don’t like about church (maybe forget talking about them at all), and begin talking about what ministry is happening. Talk about what God is doing in our lives and in our communities.
  • Do the hard work of living as a community, instead of dying. Living is uncomfortable, it is conflictual, it makes some unhappy at times, and requires us to live with uncertainty about what is coming next.

Ministry that looks like palliative care is killing us. Or least it us letting us as pastors, churches, and Christian hasten our journey towards communal, institutional death.

And worst/best thing is, we aren’t terminal.


Has ministry become like Palliative care in your context? Should we be focused on making people comfortable? Share in the comments, or one the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

What have you to do with us Jesus?

Mark 1:21-28

… a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”… (Read the whole passage here.)

Sermon

Today, we pick up in Mark’s gospel where we left off last week. Jesus has preached his first sermon, “The Kingdom of God has come near” and called Simon and Andrew, James and John to be disciples.

Now the group of them head to Capernaum, which becomes the home-base for Jesus’ ministry. It is the Sabbath, the day of worship, and they go to the synagogue. Jesus begins teaching, as was the right of any circumcised Jewish man. Usually, it was local scribes or rabbis who preached but sometimes travelling preachers like Jesus would come by to teach.

As Jesus begins, the congregation notices something different. Jesus is not teaching like the scribes. The scribes who were like walking encyclopedias of religious knowledge. The scribes were experts in the law, in the teachings and interpretations of the Jewish faith. The scribes didn’t innovate or interpret, they simply memorized what had been interpreted and written down by rabbis and other authorities long ago. New teaching was dangerous and probably heretical. It was important to stick to what they knew to be tried and true.

Yet, Jesus was preaching something new. Something different. Jesus was preaching from his own authority. Preaching like he had some special access to Moses, Elijah and the other prophets. Like he had special access to God.

While most people weren’t sure what to make of this Jesus guy, who he was or where his authority came from, one person did. Or rather an unclean spirit did. While regular humans don’t see who Jesus really is, the supernatural unclean spirit knows. And the spirit knows that Jesus is a threat to the established order. The spirit knows that Jesus has come to turn things upside down. The spirit knows the world that he and the people around him are stuck in is the past. The comfortable systems, traditions and ways of being that they are used to are over. Jesus is going wreck things.

The spirit is the one who speaks.

What have you to do with us? I know who you are!

The man with a spirit might just be a man with an unclean spirit. But for Mark the man might also represent the ways in which that community, that world, was possessed by tradition. Stuck in past. Unable to introduce any change that threatens the status quo.

Sound familiar?

Churches these days often struggle with this issue. We often long for things to be as they once were. We long to have Sunday schools with 100 kids every Sunday, and services that are standing room only. We long for offering plates to beoverflowing, we hope for more baptisms than funerals. We long for the past, or at least the way we remember things to be.

As a faith community or as individuals we can be possessed by our past. We can fear change, block anything new, strive to keep things the same. As the old joke goes,

How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?

Change!??! That lightbulb was good enough for my grandfather, so it is good enough for us.

When the unclean spirit names the threat that Jesus is not only to the good deal that the spirit has possessing some poor man, but also the threat that Jesus represents the whole world of the people of Capernaum and beyond, Jesus will have none of it.

Be silent and come out of him!

Jesus will not be deterred by the anxiety and fears, or the unwillingness of the spirit or people to let go. Jesus is preaching a new world, Jesus is calling the people around him into the future, into a new way of living. Jesus’ new teaching is astonishing, radical, unheard of. And it comes from a place that people don’t understand, but that the unclean spirit gets. The unclean spirit knows that the old ways, that the established approved way of doing things is safe, is comfortable, it is known. The spirit knows that people would so often rather be possessed by trying to maintain the past than face the unknown future.

Be Jesus knows that God is calling us into something new and unknown. And Jesus knows that we need to be exorcized of our fears and worries if we are going to see God’s future. Because we are often possessed by maintaining our past, by trying to recreate what we once were. We hold onto the traditions, systems, and ways to doing things that were good for our grandparents and so, we believe, are good enough for us.

Now don’t hear Jesus wrongly. Jesus is not saying that the past is wrong or bad. Jesus is not saying that God wasn’t active in the past, or that God wasn’t working through the ways we used to do things. Often when churches and individuals face change, letting go of what we once were is so hard because it feels like we are dishonouring our forebears. It feels like we are saying our parents and grandparents were wrong, that they weren’t being faithful.

That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus knows that God has been present among the people, among us the whole time. Jesus isn’t exorcizing us of our past. Jesus is exorcizing us of our holding on, of our resistance to change, of our need for safety and comfort. Of our fears and anxieties.

It is not the past that keeps us from seeing God’s future, it is our efforts to keep things the same, to recreate what once was, what we once were.  And Jesus’s new teaching is really about showing us that new world. Showing us God’s future. Showing that God is coming to, meeting us in the future. God knows we cannot go backwards.

And that is what is so radical to the people in the synagogue in capernaum, so radical for us today. God is not a God of the past, God is not about keeping things, keeping us the same. God is about resurrection, about turning death and forces that hold us back, into new and abundant life.

Let us pray,

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Want Millennials to come to church? Let them lead it. 

Life has been getting busy,  so to my readers, I appreciate your patience this summer as the posts have been fewer and far between. But now onto the meat and potatoes.

alberta-prairies-616Yesterday, as my wife Courtenay and I drove across country, our conversation turned to leadership issues in the church. (Before having our son, as two pastors we talked about church too much. Now church conversations are a welcome relief from poop conversations.)

We are both Millennials serving in a predominantly boomer and older church. Most of our colleagues are boomers and, definitely, our parishioners are boomers or older. This generational and experiential difference often makes for interesting dynamics.

I have had parishioners who remember riding a horse and buggy to church. I had a cell phone in high school. I have worked with colleagues who spent hours making bulletins on Gestetners. I have spent hours formatting bulletins on a MacBook and printing them on an all-in-one fax/copier/scanner. In each of my three parishes, there have been reams of paper files waiting for me in my new offices. I left memory sticks for my successors.

But it isn’t just technological differences. I have often found myself having tea with little old ladies or doing marriage counselling with people old enough to be my parents. I have been at odds with people who have 1950s expectations of pastors, like putting the church ahead of my family or trolling the countryside looking for people to visit. And I am pastor who has 2010s expectations of parishioners, like that we all know  how to read emails or send texts and we all understand that society is not going to make Christians for us with school prayer, legislated Christian holidays and national endorsement of our religion.

image source -http://sharperiron.org/filings/8-1-13/28027
image source -http://sharperiron.org/filings/8-1-13/28027

Being a young pastor means that I regularly hear this statement from my boomer and older parishioners:

Pastor, we need to get the young people back

My cynical mind adds, “so they can give money and serve on council.”

But in my more empathetic moments, I realize that this statement carries a lot of grief. Most of the boomer, silent generation and G.I. generation folks experienced a church where they were surrounded by their peers from cradle onward. They not only want their kids and grandkids to be at church, but they want them to have friends their own age at church.

I am always surprised that while I am told that we need to get the young people back, I am rarely asked why I stayed as young person. In my experience of church, there have hardly ever been other people my age around. I have never really been a pastor to my peers, only to people more like my parents or grandparents.

I struggle with the idea of getting the young people back. What are we getting them back to?

I am an ordained pastor, trained to work in the church and at times it feels like an alien world, an anachronistic place that doesn’t always have room for me.  And no, it isn’t the ancient liturgy or hymns that feel weird, it is the unspoken expectations of the 1950s that hang in the air.

I don’t think many church people realize that my generation has never prayed the Lord’s Prayer in school, we have always heard happy holidays in stores, christianity has never been the majority religion of our age group, the pastor has never dropped in on us for supper, shopping has always been allowed on Sundays, pastors have never preached on the radio, and church attendance has never been a social obligation for us

mad-men-1024x768When I talk to my friends about church, I can explain the ancient ritual, the dogma and doctrine. But I am at loss most times to explain the grieving of so many church goers who are longing for a world was a little more Mad Men and a little less Breaking Bad. We Millennials love both shows (and we would love to dress like Mad Men), but we live in a Breaking Bad world. The 1960s world of Mad Men exists only in fiction to us, it is not part of our experience as it is for older generations.

I don’t have the solution for bridging the Boomer/Silent Generation church with the Millennial world of my peers, but I do have a suspicion.

It will need to start at the top.

Or rather with leadership.

It won’t work to grieve Millennials back into the church, which seems to be one predominant strategy. Nor will it work to lure us back with advertising and flashy worship or hip programs.

If the church wants Millennials to engage, the church needs to invite Millennials to lead. The reason that 1950s expectations still exist is because the church back then was built by the young G.I. generation. That generation had learned to lead through World War II, and went on to built nations together in the 50s. At my age, my grandfather was a pastor planting churches, serving on leadership committees and stepping to a leadership role in the greater church. His generation was permitted to shape the church as young people. The G.I. generation also held onto leadership for nearly 40 years, in society as well as the church. They held onto the US presidency from JFK to the first George Bush. Boomers were kept out of leadership, and so they were truly the first generation to begin leaving the church.

Now that Boomers have finally entered into leadership positions near the end of their careers, Gen Xers and Millennials have been left on the sidelines when it comes to shaping the world and shaping the church.

So how do we begin opening up leadership to include younger generations? Well, first off I know what involving young people doesn’t look like.

Often church people have a habit of mistaking leadership for being put on display. Leadership is not asking that young pastor to “speak” to the youth, or serve on a larger church youth or campus ministry committee, or preach a sermon at a convention. And leadership is not tokenism. Having a 20 or 30 something on the national governing board of the church is not leadership either.

Leadership is forming and shaping the way we do things. It is presenting a vision for a community. It is articulating our communal identity. Millennials cannot be tokens held up as examples of young people still in the church. Beaming with pride for the nice sermon by the young pastor at a church conference is the same as clapping for the 4 year old dressed like a sheep in the Christmas pageant.

shutterstock_92015645Inviting Millennials to engage will mean church people must be prepared  to be shaped and formed by the young people they so desperately want back. It means allowing the dreams of the younger generation to become reality, instead of being something they have sit on until later in life.

Getting Millennials to come (back) to church will mean allowing the church to belong to us and the 21st Century. The Church cannot continue grieving for the lost 1950s.

So next time I hear someone say to me,

“Pastor, we need the young people to come back to church”

I think I will respond,

“Are you ready to let the young people be in charge?”

We will see how this goes…


 

Is the church ready for Millennials in leadership? Will Millennials step up? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a pastor and I don’t care.

pastoral_careI have been reading Will Willimon lately, not his books, but his blog. I am the product of the tech generation I guess. This recent post struck me.

It is definitely worth a read, but here is a quote:

Four decades later as bishop I saw too many of my fellow clergy allow congregational-caregiving and maintenance to trump other more important acts of ministry like truth-telling and mission leadership. Lacking the theological resources to resist the relentless cloying of self-centered congregations, these tired pastors breathlessly dashed about offering their parishioners undisciplined compassion rather than sharp biblical truth.

North American parishes are in a bad neighborhood for care-giving. Most of our people (at least those we are willing to include in mainline churches) solve biblically legitimate need (food, clothing, housing) with their check books. Now, in the little free time they have for religion, they seek a purpose-driven life, deeper spirituality, reason to get out of bed in the morning, or inner well-being – matters of unconcern to Jesus. In this narcissistic environment, the gospel is presented as a technique, a vaguely spiritual response to free-floating, ill-defined omnivorous human desire.

Willimon is writing in an American context and my sense is that we are farther a long this process up here in Canada. We were living this 20 years ago and now the need for change and the need for purpose is much clearer to most bishops, pastors and congregations… I think… I really hope it is.

4 years ago this week, I walked across the convocation stage at seminary and completed my degree. So now I am at the point of roughly equal seminary experience to parish experience. In four years, I have served 3 congregations. One smaller rural family church, one large multi staff corporate church and now a medium pastoral/program size parish. All three have had different strengths, different challenges, different experiences. But I keep coming across evidence of this “caring for me and my family” system. I read it in policies and minutes, I hear stories from parishioners and see it in the attitudes of and systems put in place by predecessors. Our church has been running on the Pastor-as-caregiver model for a while now. Heaven forbid the pastor may want to help congregations grow as disciples, that would be infringing on their individualism. I cannot say whether this situation came about at the demand of parishioners or it was a way of being church imposed by leadership, clergy in particular. But it is not working anymore.

And in 4 years of running into the evidence, it is becoming frustrating. What are we, if we are not a community that is proclaiming gospel in word and action (specifically word and sacrament)? What are we if we are not boldly announcing God’s work in the world and among us? What are if we are not at one time admitting our place in the in-ward turned selfishness of the human condition while declaring that God is redeeming and transforming all of that into a new creation? A big group therapy club and community service club.

Well… that is not what I signed up for. I am a Lutheran Pastor and I don’t care. That is to say, I am not here to care my people into heaven, and I am certainly not here to reduce to the Gospel to therapy or moralisms. On the days when I get it right, I hope that I am telling people about Jesus, and witnessing to the people and things that God cares about.

And by the grace of God, for 4 years, the people I have served have been patient enough to come along with me. Most of the time.