My wise friend, Joanne Lanfier, who is a UCC pastor and a counselor with our Association’s Family Counseling Ministry, says that pastor-congregation relationships are like marriages. I would extend her analogy and suggest that the search-and-call process has much in common with the elaborate courtship and mating rituals of both humans and animal species. Ministers and churches try, and often go to great lengths, to present their best and most appealing selves to each other, in an effort to win each other’s approval and love, and form a mutually nurturing partnership. And unfortunately, as in marriage, a significant number of pastors and congregations find themselves in unhappy unions and “break up” after a few years together. Surveys conducted by the Barna Group show that the average tenure of ministers in Mainline churches today is about four years.
Joanne’s marriage analogy and the Barna research raise intriguing questions for further study: When churches and pastors introduce themselves to each other, what aspects of themselves do they reveal and emphasize? What do they conceal? How can we encourage greater transparency and open communication in ministers’ and congregations’ earliest interactions with each other? How can we help churches and pastors listen more carefully to, and think harder about, what they are hearing from each other? Might there be a better way to do search-and-call—perhaps a way that invites ministers and churches to “live together” for a while, and get to know each other in a more relaxed manner, before they “tie the knot”?By way of background, in the UCC the process of a pastor being called to a church is like a matchmaking game: a series of interviews, opportunities to see potential pastors preach and lead worship, meet-and-greets with the congregation, and an eventual vote by the church. This process can involve some emphasis of gifts and opportunities and minimization or hiding of flaws and growing edges, such that they aren't discovered until the two have committed to each other, as in the analogy above. Christopher's questions regarding transparency and honesty are good and needed, but it takes a lot of intentionality to do it.
Me neither. Or at least I'll keep trying. At New Sacred, Thea Realis declares that she won't worship being busy:
Our culture glorifies busyness. The expectation heaped on capitalist subjects is to constantly produce. Recent statements justifying budget cuts to vital programs that protect the environment, promote the arts, and feed hungry children and seniors because they “don’t show results” highlight this thinking: Our personal, political, spiritual, and financial worth is tied to our tangible output.
Mainstream United States culture is not so good at slowing down.Indeed, it isn't. And I was completely caught up in this for a long time, where every call, every email, every church need, needed to be addressed immediately. For me glorification of busyness specifically manifested itself in my career, and once I realized I was on a path that was only doing me and others harm, I was able to slow down and evaluate how I was worshiping busyness.
Related. Amy Cunningham has a Ted Talk entitled Drowning in Empathy: The Cost of Vicarious Trauma. It's about 12 minutes long and deals with the issue of "compassion fatigue," where those particularly in helping professions absorb so much of their patients'/clients' issues that they become worn down and their personalities begin to change. I've watched this several times because it's that good. Pour a cup of coffee and have a listen:
Done for a reason. In another blog post that is older than I thought (but just as timely), Mark Sandlin examines the rise of the "dones"--that is, people who were once very active in church and then decided they'd had enough--and suggests that the church can be its own worst enemy:
I’d actually make the argument that the rise of the Dones doesn’t just point to the Church killing of the Dones’ desire for spiritual community, it points to the damage the Church has already done to spiritual community within itself.
Over the past few years, as the Church has come to grasp the reality that folks are leaving and the behavior of the body of Christ was one of their main contentions, we’ve seen public figures basically say, “get over it – community is hard.” Again, pointing fingers at those whom I’d argue are the victims.
Yes, community is hard, but it doesn’t have to be so unnecessarily hard.
The Dones are right. The communities making up far too many churches are much more soul sapping than they are spiritually nurturing.
Does that mean all churches? Of course not. There are still plenty who are doing a great job. However, watching the continued exodus from the Church and the feedback those who are leaving provide, there’s clearly not enough of churches doing it well.I've known people to walk away from the church because they're so tired. They're asked and asked and asked to help with this and chair that and organize this and step in to do this other thing. All while a certain portion of the congregation hangs back, either never asked or never volunteering. This version of community is tiring and spiritually draining. No wonder some step away.
What's the answer? I don't yet know. But the way we currently do community is more of a burden on some than it needs to be.
Accurate. As the backlash against casting a woman as the next Doctor in Doctor Who continues, various people have come up with Bingo cards to help everyone keep track of the ridiculous statements being made:
Very helpful, I think.
Misc. Right-wing media is really, really irritated by the rising "Religious Left." Thoughts and prayers. Samuel Wells on what people need from their pastors. Jan Edmiston on why millennials don't do church. (Hint: it's more stuff about how we do community.) Libby Anne has concerns about Joshua Harris' new documentary.