Thursday, February 06, 2020

Small Sips Rises from the Dead

What is this? Some long-time readers of the blog might remember this feature that I used to do called Small Sips. These were collections of links to articles and blog posts concerning a wide variety of topics, but mostly to do with church or ministry-related issues. I decided that this felt like the right time to bring it back, because my upcoming work will call for reading a fair amount of blog posts and articles about these issues.

Also! In case you weren't aware, I was up until this month using the name Small Sips for my monthly e-newsletter. My newsletter is filled with info and updates about books, blog posts, speaking appearances, and other goodies. So please go ahead and sign up if you haven't.

Search tips. Jan writes a letter to Pastor Search Committees:
The truth is that you are the most important committee in the church. Your choices will impact the future of your congregation for the rest of that congregation’s life.

No pressure or anything. But here’s the good news: God wants to direct you. Your job is to discern and listen and then act in faith, not in fear.

Having said this, I get that you don’t want denominational staffers to tell you what to do, but there might be some insights that we can contribute as entities who do this All The Time. You don’t have to take this guidance, but honestly, we want you to have the best pastor possible and these tips will help. You can find this out now or you can find this out later.
The rest of the post is a bulleted list of things for search committees to keep in mind, such as looking beyond candidates' looks and delving beneath what's on the resume.

This is a process that no church should short-change or rush through. There are many good reasons to take the time and care needed to find the right fit between pastor and congregation. This will come with moments of impatience and frustration, but thorough work is good work, especially where people and relationships are concerned.

Guidelines are for breaking sometimes. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson thinks the Lectionary sucks:
9. One claim often made in favor of the lectionary is that it promotes unity. Besides the fact that there are multiple lectionaries in use (both one-year and three-year, Common Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary, Narrative Lectionary, Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass, the African-American Lectionary, etc.), and plenty of churches that don’t use any lectionary at all, whatever unity thus achieved is built on all the aforementioned flaws.

10. The other claim is that the lectionary forces preachers to deal with texts they’d otherwise ignore. In practice, the lectionary only inspires tactical neglect of texts preachers would ignore anyway, or eisegesis when they can’t. You can’t fix a homiletical problem with a technical solution.
The critiques are fair, and I include some of them when I've taught preaching for my Association's lay ministry program. A lectionary can get preachers out of hobby horse ruts and challenge them in some ways, but every 2-3 years you're running across the same texts, some of which have been chopped up to exclude the most troublesome parts. What can be good about the lectionary is still limited and flawed.

Wilson also includes some solutions, including using different lectionaries other than the one preferred by one's tradition, or abandoning it for a season, or changing up the texts used. These can keep both preacher and congregation engaged.

Don't do this. 

I mean, let's be honest. I wish Gordon Atkinson wrote more often. But I take what I can get, which lately has been re-posting of some favorites from his old Real Live Preacher blog. He re-posted a really good one a few months ago on how to find a church:
Let me guess. You’re looking for a cool church, filled with authentic Christians who aren’t judgmental, but also have convictions, and are hip and classic in just the right mixture. A church where people forgive each other, and love children, and worship in meaningful ways. A church with a swingin’ preacher who makes the bible come alive, and tells great stories, and is a wonderful inspiration, and is your best friend. A church that isn’t liberal or conservative, but seems to transcend weak-ass categories like those. A church where the hunger for truth is honored, and people can disagree but still love each other and share a plate of tacos. A church where people are committed to “The Christ Life” and it shows in the fabulous and creative ways they love the world.

That what you’re looking for?

I got ya. I understand.

Here are some tips to help you in your search.

1. You won’t find that church.
Everything else stems from #1. There's no perfect church, so just stop with that.

But what you will be able to find are a lot of communities full of people doing their best, seeking, trying to live up to what a church should be, failing a lot, but sticking together and trying again. Mileage varies and there are plenty of stories of pain that have happened in churches. But hope--and maybe tacos--springs eternal.

The fancy theological word is "praxis." At the Shalem Institute blog, Jessie Smith reflects on the importance of prayer for her in justice work:
Over time, through prayer, I saw the humanity of this community on Capitol Hill. I do not just see my colleagues or members of the larger Washington Interreligious Staff Committee — a committee of nonprofit, faith-based organizations — as persons who work on immigration or professionals in peace. I see them as a beloved of God.

Prayer is a practice of resistance in a culture that demands transactional relationships. Even those who may advocate for others are still often caught in being too easily scripted as simply brokers of peace and justice.

For me to persist for justice and peace, I cannot allow myself to fall for such illusions. I cannot advocate for the humanity of others unless I also practice seeing the humanity of the people I work with every day.
People of faith are often in danger of keeping prayer and justice issues separate, even if one is an advocate of both. To only pray is to neglect the service to which God calls us; to only serve is to forget the calling of God in which we're meant to be grounded. Prayer in the midst of service helps us see the importance of both.

I say more about this in my book Prayer in Motion.

Misc. Jan again on what may or may not work in 21st Century ministry. Answer: it depends. Austin Kleon on belief vs. practice. UCC minister Rev. Bobbie McKay is celebrating 50 years of ordination, and reflects on some of the ups and downs that her ministry has seen. Learning that not everybody has an internal monologue might ruin your day.