Monday, February 08, 2016

Small Sips Keeps Writing

Important. Just read it. Aaron Smith at Cultural Savage writes about his struggle with depression and anxiety, and how sometimes he'd just rather not take his medicine:
Here’s the thing, that part of me that doesn’t want to take the drugs is convinced that maybe I’m not really sick. It is a constant thought in my messed up head. Maybe I don’t really have bipolar. Maybe my anxiety disorder is just me not wanting to deal with life. Maybe I’m just making it all up and I’m really “normal”. Maybe I’m not crazy after all. 
It’s an attractive thought. It would be nice to not have to live with the reality of mental illness, the panic attacks, the mania, the depression. It would be nice to hold down a decent 40 hours a week job. It would be nice to not feel my emotions without them overwhelming me. There is a real attraction to the thought that I’m just making this all up.
I don't really have thoughts on this. I mean, in the sense that I have any deep insight to what he's talking about. I share it more because I think it's a good reflection that those of us who don't wrestle with such things could benefit from reading. People who don't have this sort of illness don't truly understand it.

Centered in community no more. Liz Lenz writes about the death of the midwestern church:
This loss is due, in part, to the continuing move from rural to urban life. Lasley, who has spent many years studying the dynamics of rural communities, notes that, with the increased mechanization and corporatization of farms, neighbors become more far-flung. And as the miles between neighbors grow, so too does the social space that separates them. 
According to a 2010 survey of rural life conducted by Lasley and his colleagues at Iowa State, eight out of 10 farmers and their families reported that family visits to the neighbors had “greatly” or “somewhat declined.” Similarly, six out of 10 said that instances of neighbors helping each other have “greatly” or “somewhat declined.” Nine out of 10 said they don’t rely on their neighbors the way they used to. 
Lasley attributes this decrease in neighborliness to the shuttering of schools and the decline in church attendance. “There is no glue holding these communities together,” Lasley says, “and it’s making us forget how to neighbor.”
Churches in these small towns used to be the center of community life. People attended worship or other functions to socialize and for support. Then that all started changing.

These churches no longer serve that function, so they disappear. One of the key problems is that nothing replaces them. We've become more isolationist; we don't have that same sense of connectedness that these community centers helped foster.

Times have already changed 3 times since this post was written. Carey Neiwhof lists some things that worked in church a decade ago that don't any more. Lately I've been thinking a lot about this one:
8. Assuming people know what their next step is 
A decade ago, in a more churched culture, it was commonplace to assume that most people knew what they needed to do to become a Christian or to grow as a Christian. 
That era is gone. 
Now the average unchurched person arrives knowing almost nothing about Christianity, what to do to become a Christian or how to grow as a Christian. 
To understand how radically things have shifted, imagine you converted to Hinduism. 
How would you know you’ve actually become a Hindu? 
What’s your next step? 
Exactly.
All of them are pretty good, and most are basically variations on the idea that an attractional, build-it-and-they-will-come model no longer works.

But I'm thinking a lot about the one quoted above, and the state of new member orientation to the church. I also think about rituals like weddings and funerals where you no longer can assume that people will recite the Lord's Prayer or sing the Doxology along with you without the words in front of them. I've had that happen more than once, and they've been good reminders. A little embarrassing, but mostly good reminders.

So churches now need to do more to nurture and grow disciples, and leave behind the notion that people will just know how to do it. Because less and less will.

Be you. Deborah Dean-Ware reflects on what happens when smaller churches try too much to be like big churches:
I learned in seminary, and it was reinforced in seminar after seminar after graduation, that church growth is about taking your church to the next level. If your church is pastor-centered (50-150 members), you need to grow it to a program-sized church (150-350 members). Program-sized? Time to grow into a corporate-sized congregation. If you are corporate already, you might look into following Walmart’s business plan to take over the world. 
Got to get to the next level, and the next, and the next. It is a rat’s race, a never-ending quest. It sets up 99 percent of churches and pastors to feel ineffective, depressed, and disenchanted. It makes it truly difficult to be content and at peace. All in the spirit of attaining Big Church. 
My church has taught me about the church of the future. The Church of the Good Shepherd, UCC is a small church by all standards. We have 140 members and a worship attendance of 80-90. Our budget is just over $200,000. We have 3-15 kids in Sunday School. And you know what? We are so okay with that. In fact, we are thrilled with it. 
We don’t want to be Big Church!
The basic lesson here is: be who you are and stop trying so hard to be something else. The culprit here happens to be large churches, of which there is nothing necessarily wrong. It's just that not every church is called to be that, and that's okay.

Bookmarked; will revisit frequently. Jennifer Garam has a pep talk for writers who don't feel like anyone cares about what they write:
I could give up. I could say that I’m sick of all the rejection and I want to do something else, something where I feel valued and appreciated. Something where there’s more of a direct correlation between what I put in and what I get out. 
But as bad as the rejection and all the non-caring feels, not writing feels worse. I have to tell my stories and share my experiences, or I get angry and lethargic and depressed. Without writing, I feel powerless and like I don’t have a voice, like my thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter. I get frustrated when I’m sending out a piece that I love and it isn’t getting accepted anywhere and I’m yearning for it to be published so others can read it. I’d prefer if everything I wrote got accepted. But regardless, the actual process of writing is soothing, healing, and necessary for me to feel OK in the world. So I have to keep doing it.
The entire thing is very good. But when it comes down to it, writing feels better than not writing. A musician plays music even if the only ones who hear it are her bedroom walls. A chef cooks food if only for himself and a few friends. A writer writes, no matter how large or small the audience. And as she says later in the piece, you really don't know who's out there reading and might be struck by what you say.

I need to do this. Rocky Supinger is making a pastoral move, and in the process gutted his library:
Part of this biblio-purge is driven by an impulse to pare down, lighten up, cling less authors and titles for my sense of identity and impact. 
Another part of comes from an awareness of a drift in my interests since I moved into this office eight years ago. That awareness is most pointed with regard to all the “Missional Church” books I gave away. I clung desperately to those books in my first call, but looking at them today I have a definite sense that those volumes were a great deal of ink spilled on one big idea, a kind of theoretical hall of mirrors where each contributor reflected what all the others were already doing, only a little louder or longer. I got the idea. My work is based on it. I don’t need the books anymore. 
Yet a third component of this move away from all these books arises from a reconsideration of the value of a theological library for my work as a pastor. I am uneasy about a move away from a library stocked with the Niebuhrs and the Barths I was weaned on in seminary, but less and less of the ministerial work I’m doing utilizes those texts. At all.
I have to be up front that I don't know if I could do this to the same extent that he did. The missional books he mentioned? Yeah, I've already purged a lot of my own for the same reasons. In fact, I regularly look at my entire section of church and ministry books and ask why I still have most of them.

The Bible and theology stuff is trickier for me. I like having classic works by Niebuhr and Barth around, but so much of it is for show and not necessarily because I constantly refer to it or because it's relevant to daily pastoral work. And I can look at stuff in those sections that have become obsolete even in the past decade.

One of these days, I'll do what he did. But not yet.

Misc. The Pope is going to open his traditional Maundy Thursday foot-washing to women and girls. Some don't think his changes are a big deal, but they are to those within the system. Cindy Knox with 10 commandments for supporting your pastor. Chaplain Mike revisits an old post on how increased amounts of choices in our culture have impacted the church. Also, he quotes Dave Matthews. Gordon Atkinson, now a "church outsider," reconsiders all the things he assumed about such a group when he was a pastor.

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