Thursday, November 16, 2017

Vintage CC: The Process of Change

I've written many blog posts over the years about change in the church. This one comes from September 2014, and doesn't focus so much on the need to change so much as two basic approaches that one may take depending on the circumstances and one's best read of the specifics.

I'm a big fan of change, especially in the church. My upbringing as a pastor's kid kind of ingrained change into me; it helped me accept change as a natural, inevitable fact of life. This has been a helpful asset for me in ministry.

The church needs to change. We've been hearing this for years via countless books, articles, speakers, workshops, conferences, and blog posts. It's a new era and a new culture, we're told. The church can't just make the same assumptions about its place in the world any more. Both in terms of the way it functions internally and the way it interacts with the surrounding community, the church needs to face the reality of each and make changes accordingly.

There are at least two ways to go about making changes.

The first follows the adage "it's better to ask forgiveness than permission." I've used this method plenty of times as I've tweaked worship, altered the way I structure confirmation and other programs, established my approach to visitation, and even when I've changed the way I've greeted people before worship (seriously, this was an issue at one point).

Usually, this first method may be used with smaller things, or perhaps when a pastor is still new and establishing that he or she probably will end up doing things a bit differently than the last person. Depending on the issue, it could be used with larger items as well. There do come points when something is so obviously broken that ministry staff and/or the governing board could get away with an executive decision and then put out a few fires afterward.

The second way to make changes is a little more complicated, and a bit slower. It recognizes the complexity of a church system and carefully weighs the impact of a decision on that system. This second method recognizes all the moving parts involved and understands that it needs to take its time, to evaluate, to consult.

Let's be clear about something with this second way: change really is going to happen. Sure, some churches use the process as an excuse to put off a decision until everyone gets so worn down that they stop caring and nothing happens. But that's not what I'm talking about. Instead, I'm talking about a process where the ones in charge of making a change do their homework first. They are propelled forward by a certain urgency, but they temper it with enough patience to make sure the people and programs it will affect have given their input and will have appropriate consideration in order to adjust.

Taking the time to go through such a process doesn't mean change isn't coming. It just signals a desire to gather enough information and lay enough groundwork that the impending change comes in light of proper account of what it will affect. How will this change affect staff? How will it alter program schedules? Do people in charge of those programs know about the change we're considering? How will this change affect visitors? What impact might this change have on various demographics of our congregation, e.g., young families, the elderly, etc.? What might this change do for our relationship to the community?

These are questions worth pondering for a while. If you're asking them just to put off a decision, you're doing it wrong. But if you're asking them because you love your fellow members and want the best for your church as a whole going forward, then you're taking the time to do it right.

It is indeed better to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes. But other times call for a little more time, consideration, and care. Discerning which calls for which is the first step.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Find Your People

I sometimes have trouble fitting in to groups. It's not that I'm incapable, but certain situations have caused me to wonder whether I'll be able to gel with certain sets of people.

You know this feeling. I'm not alone or unique in this.

Sometimes it's because we can't really talk about common interests: we don't like the same music, we're on opposite sides of a sports rivalry, we haven't seen the same movies or read the same books, we're too far apart spiritually or politically to understand each other.

Sometimes it's the social dynamics at play. I make my living regularly interacting with a group of people, but there are certain professional expectations to uphold and friendship beyond friendliness can be tricky. When I move on to another church or when a member decides to seek out a different faith community, things can get even more awkward.

It can be difficult to find your people.

What does that mean? Who are your people? They're the ones that get your personality quirks because they may share a few. They may understand your professional life because they do something similar enough that you can commiserate around common joys and frustrations. They might love the movies or teams that you do. They may not feel like they fit in in similar ways, but they somehow fit with you.

Sometimes we're told internally or externally that whatever group we're a part of, we should just power through, endure, make it work even if it clearly isn't going to. What are the alternatives? Where could you possibly find the folks that really, actually, truly get you, understand you, appreciate you? Where are the people with whom you can be your most genuine self, without judgment, reservation, or professional consequence?

There's no one answer to that. Sometimes it takes some hunting, sometimes it happens by accident. Sometimes it starts online, sometimes in real life.

But your people are out there. They're looking for you just as much as you're looking for them. And once you find each other, it can make all the difference for both of you.

Life is too short to keep trying to wedge your square peg self into the circular-shaped crowd around you.

Find affirmation. Find love. Find support. Find real living.

Find your people.

(Image via Pexels)

Thursday, November 09, 2017

What is Body Prayer?

Previously: What is the Examen?, What is Lectio Divina?, What is Fasting?, What is the Labyrinth?, What is the Liturgical Calendar?, What are Prayer Beads?

You can find an endless supply of resources that will tell you all kinds of proper techniques for prayer. Many of them will encourage you to find a quiet and secluded spot, breathe slowly, and sit as still as possible.

For various reasons, a lot of people can't do parts of that at any given time. Maybe there's too much crammed into the day to find that quiet and secluded spot. Maybe you aren't capable of sitting still and would rather move around more or you've had a particularly rough day and have energy to burn.

Fortunately, there are forms of prayer that involve active movement, some of which I've written about already such as walking a labyrinth and using prayer beads. (See the links above for more information.)

But both of these fall under a much larger umbrella of spiritual practice called body prayer.

Body prayer can vary in terms of specific methods. Many of them involve movement that is slow, repetitive, or both. Yoga is perhaps the best known form of body prayer, using a series of deliberate stretches and positions that call you to focus attention on what your body is doing and how it feels. Any body prayer will include becoming more in touch with what you are doing physically and what you are experiencing as you do it.

Many forms of exercise can be considered body prayer. Jogging for a few miles, hitting a heavy bag, or doing a series of calisthenics all could be adapted to include a prayerful component. Not only are you already paying attention to what your body is feeling as you do them, but these repetitive movements can also focus your mind and channel your energy toward what motivates you as you do them. Such regular motion can help you work out what you are carrying in your spirit, whether anger, sadness, or anxiety, in constructive ways.

Essentially, body prayer involves the entire self rather than only the mind, which helps improve physical strength as well as provide mental focus.

Here's a simple practice to try.
  1. Choose a series of 6 or 7 stretches to do that engage various parts of the body. Here's one as an example.
  2. As you do each one, notice what parts of your body are involved. What muscles and joints are you using, and how do they feel as you do each one?
  3. What are you feeling as you engage this activity, or what joys or concerns have you brought to this time of stretching? How does doing each stretch change or enhance those emotions?
  4. When you come to the end, again reflect on what is different inside you. How might this activity have released tension? How might it have caused you to notice your body's needs in a deeper way?
  5. Conclude with a prayer of thanks.
(Image via Pixabay)

Monday, November 06, 2017

Worship Wrinkles

I recently attended a ministry workshop stating that when it comes to Sunday worship, a church should plan 52 unique celebrations a year.

I've been thinking about that quite a lot, as this has been an issue lately in my own setting. Not too long ago, I realized that I'd become too comfortable with what I've been doing since before I began here. I've been using a basic order and just plugging in new words and songs for each spot.

When I attend certain churches I've been a part of, I've noticed that the order is the same since the last time I was there. It could be years since I've attended, but when I walk in I know that the liturgy is going to be basically the same as last time.

Many find comfort in this, not just for their own church but for the larger tradition that they're a part of. Some take this as a connection that they can feel with the Church Universal, that no matter where they go they'll be worshipping much the same way as fellow pilgrims in other places, as if right alongside them.

For many others, this gets old. What for some is comfortable familiarity is for others rote predictability. It's easy to stop thinking about what you're doing if you've been doing it the same way long enough.

This is not an argument that worship should be entertaining. Rather, this is an argument that worship should be engaging. And you don't have to make up each Sunday's liturgy from scratch, either.

Here comes a college football metaphor, because I like using those. When a coach puts together their offensive gameplan, their team has a basic identity, a certain set of base plays and go-to schemes that form the foundation of everything they do. But if they only ran those same plays every down and every game, the other team would know what's coming and be able to counter it pretty easily after a quarter or so.

So the coaches add wrinkles. They keep doing what they know and stay with their basic foundation, but add variations on what they do in order to keep things fresh and keep the opposing defense guessing.

Any given church can and should have a basic worship identity. Whether traditional, contemporary, high mass, contemplative, emergent, or whatever else, the general order and feel of a church's service doesn't need to change. Whatever you are, be that as best you can. Whatever you do, do it boldly and with as high a quality as you can muster.

But adding wrinkles helps keep people engaged. Things like:
  • A reflective video in place of the usual organ prelude.
  • A dramatization of a Bible story rather than a plain reading.
  • An entire service centered around a theme such as a justice issue or a part of the congregation's life (Christian Education, mission, etc.)
  • Inviting a group of guest musicians to help lead music rather than what you usually feature.
There's nothing ground-breaking about this, but offering wrinkles like these in worship can help a church maintain its identity while also keeping that identity fresh and engaging.

(Image via pxhere)