Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Small Sips: The Cranky Church

Selling your soul: The Naked Pastor offers some advice for candidates entering the ministry:
1. Stop thinking independently and keep your own thoughts to yourself!
2. Memorize whatever it is you are supposed to believe. Regurgitate! Regurgitate! Regurgitate!
3. Agree with everybody and disagree with nobody. Keep your job is job one.
4. Plan on never changing your mind or having a crisis of faith or morals.
5. Read a room and totally conform to it. Never rock a boat, even a bad one.
6. Meet expectations without resentment. You are the composite of everyone’s religious fantasies.
7. Keep about 20 years behind the times.
8. Criticize everything and everyone who is different from the most popular religious status quo.
9. If you have a personality, lose it!
10. If you want out, break any of the above.
Yeah, it's cynical and sarcastic. But it also highlights the hard work that pastors have to do and the courage that they need to do it. Of course, it also speaks to the resistance that they'll encounter and the implicit, if not overt, expectations of congregations.

The common denominator for a lot of these is comfort. The pastor shouldn't have his/her own opinion, shouldn't appear vulnerable, shouldn't change severely outdated models and practices. The kicker is that many pastors probably don't fully realize that these expectations are waiting for them until they get into their first pastorate.  It's one thing to be told or warned about them in seminary, it's another to encounter them face to face.  That's been my experience, anyway.

Cranky Christians: Beth Quick highlights part of a post from another blog about the minutiae that some churchpeople get hung up on:
How the worship bulletin is designed, where the baptismal font is placed, who gets to choose the hymns — these are only important issues to those who have no real understanding of the gospel. Those who reduce our faith to such insignificant issues are those who have no real desire to be the body of Christ — laity or clergy. How to make a difference in the world, how to save a person’s self respect and dignity, making sure a person has a safe place to sleep or a warm meal — these are the things our faith tells us God is interested in...

The reason this came to mind is a short email I received last week that asked me the question, “Why are you so dedicated to helping people who don’t live good lives, when there are so many good Christians that need comfort and care?” I don’t know how to answer this questions. Those who are Christian have got it all. The people who need us are the whole reason we exist! I can’t waste time dealing with coddled malcontents. My ministry is to the lost, the damaged, the sick, and the oppressed. I thought that was what it was all about…

Cranky Christians? I’m trying to love. The world? I wish I loved it better. My goal? To make those who know Jesus care more about those who don’t.
The last sentence is what struck me as an excellent summation of this post.  

First off, it should be noted that the full body of this post includes both pastors and laypeople in its critique (You mean pastors can be cranky and hung up on the little things, too?  Naw, can't be true).

And it boils down once again to comfort.  Ministering to the lost, the damaged, the sick, and the oppressed can be scary.  It means putting yourself out there in situations that won't be completely in one's own control.  And who wants to do that when we can have a rousing argument about the newsletter border?  That's safe and controllable; that other stuff not so much. And thus the anxiety about change manifests itself in these petty ridiculous ways.

Subversive Rather Than Cranky: Finally, Kingdom Grace reflects on the current economic climate and the place of the church in it. After a few quotes from other places as background, Grace offers a few bulletpoints to chew on:
~The dominant cultural model of our churches has been to copy the models of corporate business in organizational structures, leadership styles, productivity, performance, and marketing.
~Perhaps those systems that mirror the corporate culture will also mirror their collapse.
~Should we look to these same systems to organize the recovery of a church that could be different?
~The church that exemplifies the kingdom is not conducive to the powers of an elite oligarchy.
~The church that is an alternative witness to this culture will look radically different than the celebrity-led, consumer-fed, mega-campus complex.
~God forgive us for the turbo-capitalism that drives us to success rather than faithfulness.
I'm still thinking about this post and its implications, and Grace admits that she's only scratching the surface. And the quotes she includes have a lot of meat on them as well, including some stuff that will make comfortable churches cranky.