Stay if you must, run if you can. These are strange times for the church in general, and it's a particular kind of strange for members of younger generations who voluntarily go into church leadership. Rachel Johnson, Christian Peele, and Kevin Wright are pretty blunt about the whole thing, noting that this could all go south any day and take our careers with it. But there's hope...maybe:
What if God is not done working in this messed up, beat up, washed up vessel? What if, in this new period that is emerging, the church can summon our better angels and move our world a little more toward justice, and mercy, and compassion? What if the church is not dead, but like Lazarus in the tomb, merely asleep waiting to be awoken to a fresh reality made new by the power of God?
Let's be clear, we are not interested in being hospice chaplains to the church. We are not here so that there is someone to turn out the lights after everyone has left. We're here because we want community, a life of purpose, and the ability to make the world a better place through innovation and social consciousness (we are so millennial!). We're here because, as Will Willimon says, we believe that "the church is necessary because it knows what the world does not yet know: God has reconciled the world to God." And because maybe, just maybe, what the church can become is so damn good, it's worth the risk.This is how I feel on my good days when I see stuff going well and that others share my feelings of excitement and passion for what's possible and when I see colleagues doing wonderful innovative stuff elsewhere. I need to hold onto these feelings when those other days happen, when all seems to be falling apart and I see people fleeing the church in droves for any number of reasons and I want to throw up my hands and become a physical therapist.
There's so much potential energy stored up in the church that we could release at any moment if we just give ourselves permission. Or at least if the church gave those with that energy permission.
On a related note. Elsa Peters riffs on how the church often adapts the phrase "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" for itself:
Well, I admit that I’m not exactly sure where the envy lies. It’s not the budget constraints or people power that leave me feeling like we’re not bringing good news to the poor or proclaiming release to the captives.
It doesn’t seem that we need a whole lot of people or money to that. We just need passion and vision and hope.
This is what was bugging me when I was trying to write my sermon. Not that we don’t have passion or vision or hope, but that we have somehow convinced ourselves that what happens in church should really stay in church. We don’t talk about it. It’s as if there is no good news to share when the people of God get together for some holy mischief. But, I refuse to believe it.This is the potential energy spoken of in the previous piece. A church may have a ton of stuff happening in its walls that people find life-giving and renewing, but sharing that with others makes us squirrelly.
It makes sense. The typical mainline Protestant wants to be respectful of others' beliefs and whatnot. That's good. But if something wonderful is happening in a place you love, wouldn't you at least consider telling others about it so they might experience it as well?
Fighting the "pastor bod." I just made that up. G. Jeffrey McDonald reflects on how unhealthy pastors tend to be in the name of ministry, which is really just poor health choices and boundaries:
Mounting evidence points to eye-opening patterns. Forty percent of North Carolina United Methodists clergy are obese, according to survey research from Duke University's Clergy Health Initiative, which tracks the state of clergy health over time. That's 11 percent higher than the rest of North Carolina whites. (Whites comprise the comparison group because more than 90 percent of North Carolina Methodist clergy are white). They also report significantly more cases of hypertension, arthritis, asthma, and diabetes.
Other denominations have unhealthy pastors, too. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America compares health statistics for 12,000 church workers, most of whom are pastors, with the general population insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Pastors and their colleagues experience far higher rates of illness in certain categories: 54 percent higher in hypertension, 69 percent higher in high cholesterol, and 100 percent higher in cancer. And at the Southern Baptist's national convention, GuideStone Insurance's health screenings find SBC pastors consistently suffer from weight problems and hypertension.For me personally, I engage in healthy practices due to my family disease history more than anything. But stats like the above and recognizing how easily a profession like ministry can contribute to health problems has been all the more reason for me to keep up with what I do.
It's a constant struggle and something that needs to be weighed (no pun intended) with every decision related to time management and eating habits. As the article later notes, addressing these issues involves a million little intentional choices every day.
Another thing related to what's already been mentioned. Jan Edmiston notes a Forbes article about five changes in hiring trends and expectations, and as usual applies it to the church:
5. More offers will include flexibility. This is huge. Gone are the days when pastors sit in their offices and wait for parishioners to drop by. Today’s pastor is out in the community meeting with school, civic, and elected leaders discerning the needs that might be addressed through their congregation. Today’s pastor spends an enormous time equipping other people to be leaders. The work schedules of any pastor have always been flexible. But what we do in those hours has changed dramatically since the 1950s.
Of course everything I’ve written here is contextual. Huge churches have Preaching Pastors whose primary role is to prepare and deliver sermons. Tiny churches can only pay for someone to spend a handful of hours serving them. If they want a weekly worship service, there will be no time to be out in the community.The whole thing is quite good, and I've seen some of them at work in various ways. Again, another way of keeping this whole thing from going bottoms-up is to consider new ways to embody the faith to which we have been drawn.
Another aspect of clergy health. Erik Parker, aka the Millennial Pastor, shares some thoughts on how many hours a week pastors tend to work:
Many pastors are running around going to every church event, dropping everything for every hospital call or shut-in visit, answering every phone call, arriving before every church meeting and staying for the meeting after the meeting in the parking lot. It seems like many pastors and the churches they serve are completely content with the idea that the pastor is omni-present in body… while never being able to focus well – in mind and soul – on anything in particular.
I once attended a retirement party for a pastor leaving a long time call to institutional ministry. While it was a celebratory event, there was a certain awkwardness about the whole thing. The community he served thanked him for his tremendous service, while his family made jokes about their husband and father that was never home. And when he was home, he was bringing work with him. The community that this pastor served basically thanked this pastor’s family for sacrificing quality time with their husband and father… for Jesus?That just...that sounds horrible.
I used to be the guy described above. I put the church above everything, frequently dropping whatever I was doing to rush to the hospital bed of a sick member or to be with a family grieving a loss. I gave up a lot of vacation time due to funerals. And other parts of my life suffered because of it.
The problem as Parker describes it is many churches and pastors operate with the mindset that the pastor is the one who does ministry while everyone else watches. Thankfully, this is passing away as people realize that it doesn't make for healthy pastors or congregations. But a lot of damage has already been done and it can take a lot to change the culture in such places.
Welp. David Hayward shares a cartoon of the church's future a little less optimistic than the article above:
This is what I see on my bad days.
Misc. Jan again on sharing power. PeaceBang on how to wear men's dress shirts. Yes, there are rules for such things. Aaron Smith on not giving up on Christianity. Jamie Wright on going to Africa for fun rather than for mission. Glennon Doyle Melton on marriage, infidelity, and redemption. What a pastor wishes members of her former pastorates knew.