Thursday, November 05, 2015

Small Sips Is Hunting Unicorns

File under: nice things that will never happen.  Jan at A Church for Starving Artists has been one of my favorite bloggers for many years now. I like reading her because she's constantly needling the church's sacred cows and pushing the church to think about things in new, often radical ways.

So here's a recent post she wrote about members' attendance habits, and whether that might be afforded to pastors, too:
Seminarians considering professional ministry in church contexts are not only choosing to give up their weekends for the foreseeable future, but the realities of professional ministry will also require giving up most evenings and weekdays as well. One stellar pastor I know recently announced to his congregation that he is giving up professional ministry to seek secular work – and not because he was an unsuccessful or unloved pastor. He wants his weeknights back. He wants his weekends back. He wants to be the Dad on the sidelines at soccer games on Saturday or in the kitchen making Sunday pancakes. He wants to be able to travel on weekends to see his extended family – sort of like everyone else. 
I get this. But I have an idea: What if pastors were not expected to be worship every Sunday either? 
I know some seasoned pastors who finagle one Sunday a month “off” and we all call them slackers (or geniuses.) But what if we gave every pastor one Sunday a month off for self-care or family time or the ability to feed her/his own soul in another church’s worship gathering? A rested/emotionally satisfied pastor = an effective pastor.
Confession time: sometimes I think like the pastor referenced above. I dream of having a job where I come home around 5 or 6 at night and then...stay home. And then I do whatever I want on Saturday and Sunday, including maybe take a trip somewhere for the whole weekend. But then I remember what's great about being a pastor and I put those thoughts aside until the next time they sound enticing, which is usually when I'm feeling frustrated about something. But Sundays off are one of my unicorns: they're rare, and I rejoice once I finally find one.

I suspect that many pastors would love Jan's idea and many congregants would not. I suspect that many pastors at least occasionally have feelings similar to what she describes, but the real entertainment of such a notion would cause many to exclaim things like, "They chose this profession and thus they chose this life schedule," or "Worship is the most important church activity of the week and thus our pastor needs to be there," or "For all the money we're paying you, you should take part no matter what" (this one I've actually heard).

But it remains that pastors need rest in order to be effective, and churches need to take an intentional role in helping assure that pastors get what they need so that in turn the church can get what it needs from the pastor. Jan's is one of many options, and honestly it sounds wonderful. But it'd take a lot of convincing.

The church is not a building. But it kind of is. Sometimes. Sort of. Have you been reading the UCC's New Sacred blog? If you aren't, you should be. There are many talented writers contributing there and they let me hang out with them sometimes. One recent example of the thoughtfulness that you can find there is by Emily Heath as she reflects on how churches use their buildings:
I pastor a congregation with a beautiful, historic building from the late 1700s, one that inspires people to walk in off the street to explore it. 
While we value our history as a congregation, the members of my church have been adamant about this building being more than a clubhouse for ourselves. We have our Sunday services of course, all held in a sanctuary that is both beautiful and functional. 
But we also open our doors to AA three times a week. We host community lectures and events. We open our columbarium for all who wish their ashes to be buried. We grow vegetables in our community garden. And we host whiffle ball games out back in the summer and pass out candy from the big front doors on Halloween. 
I will never willingly pastor a church that loves its building more than it loves Jesus; but I will always jump at the chance to serve where the people are willing to use every resource they have in creative ways to serve God and their communities. Including their building.
I have kind of a love/hate relationship with church buildings. On the one hand, one of my favorite spiritual practices is sitting or walking in empty sanctuaries and I'm energized by churches that constantly steward their facilities for groups inside and outside the church. On the other hand, buildings can suck up a lot of a congregation's time, energy, finances, and anxiety to the detriment of ministry and mission.

Emily proposes a healthy way of looking at the building as part of a congregation's ministry rather than a gate to be guarded and the sum of a church's purpose. That's unhealthy. Seeing the building itself as part of the mission? Healthy. Would that more churches could loosen their protective stance over the building in order to see this.

Yet another church growth post. Tim Brown posts three reasons people aren't joining your church, plus one more, which ends up being four, so why didn't he just say four...whatever. Anyway:
But it is true (and has become one of my mantras): people will put up with crappy theology for good programming. And they will because, at the end of the day, at the end of the Beth Moore Bible Study where they’ve really only found one thought helpful in the half-hour but tons that they’re not sure they can swallow (though the company was good and the treats were tasty), after that sermon by that pastor where fear of the “______ agenda” (choose your favorite boogeyman, from either side of the spectrum) was trumpeted, they’ll go home and still think what they want to think. 
They’ll still believe what they want to believe. 
When I say “programming,” I know you’re thinking of clubs and initiatives and activities. And that’s part of it. But I’m talking more about a general feeling, a general ambiance, a general approach to life and ministry and the work of God in the world. I’m not talking about struggling churches needing to “do” more, necessarily. I’m talking about struggling churches needing to change the way they are experienced more.
The key to the post is that last line, as Brown outlines ways churches need to change their atmosphere: caring for the grounds, showing energy in worship, giving the sense that joining is worthwhile. There are many churches that slog along looking bored, taking their existence for granted, inspiring no one. A vibrant church is a church that seems worth being a part of.

File under: pop culture references that might give away my age. Alan Rudnick dares to suggest that your church is not meant to be like Cheers:
One of the best part of the television show Cheers is that everyone knew the character Norm! He’d walk in and the bar would shout, “Norm!” The reality is not everyone knew Norm. The main characters knew Norm. What about all those people who came for the first time? Did everyone in the bar call their name out when they entered the door? 
Often in church growth, evangelism, vision or mission campaigns, leaders are afraid to invite others and reach out. The myth about churches is that we have to get everyone to agree. We cannot alienate anyone. This is often the reason why new vision statements fail, new worship services fail, or changes in worship fail: they’ll offend someone. Often that someone is the “Norm” of the church. We have to keep Norm, Sam, Cliff, Carla and Woody happy. If you want to keep the main characters always a small known group, then your church will not reach new people.
The church-as-Cheers argument that I've always heard is that the church should be a friendly place "where everybody knows your name." Does that apply to just the regulars, or do people make an effort to do the same for new attendees? This is part of the vibrancy encouraged in Brown's article. If you want your church to reach out to new people, you need to move beyond just the Norms.

The pep talk you need. I think that all parents at all stages of raising children occasionally need someone to say, "You're awesome. You got this. Now get back in there!" Brant Hansen has written an excellent one especially for new fathers, but I think it's adaptable for parents of any gender or age:
You miss hanging out with other adults. Another family invites you over for a simple dinner, but getting out the door is a logistical nightmare on the order of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Procuring a babysitter requires more energy than a “date night” seems to be worth. You can’t go anywhere, even out for a quick coffee with somebody, without lengthy, Kissinger-esque negotatiating and bargaining over who’s really due the time “off”. 
Dinnertime through bedtime? The Witching Hour. Brutal. You want to bail with your laptop, and let your wife handle things. 
I know how this goes down. 
But it gets better. I’m serious.
What follows is a list of things to keep in mind or to do along the way to help keep you and your parenting partner sane. The whole thing is just a great read.

Misc. Six ways to cultivate a contemplative practice. Emily Scott on her faith community's practice of "dinner church." Thinking ahead to next year, some ideas for your church's Halloween festival. The Internet Monk's Chaplain Mike with a lesson on handling failure according to Martin Luther.