Tag Archives: mission

Churches & Leadership today: What we won’t talk about, but need to.

I was on my summer internship doing hospital chaplaincy, and I had the opportunity to serve on the palliative care team.  Palliative care, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is an interdisciplinary approach to caring for patients and families with serious illnesses and injuries.  I was assigned to a case where an elderly women had suffered a massive stroke, and was in a coma.  Her recovery unlikely, her children faced the difficult choice of removing life support and placing her on hospice.  As the chaplain, I sat with the family, offering an empathic ear that listened to their concerns and sadness about their mom’s state, I mediated arguments between the siblings and their spouses as they accused each other of less than honorable motivations and past hurts, and did my best to gently and as pastorally as I could steer them toward the decision that made the most sense: place their mother on hospice and say their final goodbyes.

Well, this went on for 3 hours as we waited for the palliative care doctors.  I was getting nowhere with the family; in fact, I felt like things were going backwards.  As my frustration mounted, ticked off that my very pastoral presence wasn’t bringing calm into the situation so that a rational choice could be made, the palliative care doctors finally walked in.  The practitioner, with just as much empathy and genuine care, said, “I’ve reviewed your mother’s situation and health and I can tell you in my most honest medical opinion, she isn’t going to make a recovery.  My only question to you is, what would your mother want in this situation?”  The siblings agreed to take their mom off life support and place her in hospice.

My initial reaction: “You’ve got to be kidding me.  You just roll in and in 5 minutes get the family to make the decision I spent 3 hours trying to get them to make?”  After reflecting, I learned a important lesson about the necessity of varying skillsets and roles on teams.  What the family needed in that moment was “outside my lane” as a chaplain.  The doctors, as compassionate truth tellers, were the people they needed, with the information and expertise they needed to make their choice.

Many of us are well aware of the challenges facing ELCA congregations (and likely all denominations) with respect to shrinking membership, resources, and a lack of pastors for the number of vacant calls.  There are a lot of faithful, smart folks who are working to address these realities.  However, I think there is one reality out there that many of us know, but aren’t willing to acknowledge:

There are a number of congregations out there that are no longer viable.  

The reasons vary, but the reality is the same: while God always promises God’s people a future and a life with it, the same isn’t true for congregations.  While we certainly don’t know the timeline or shelf life, as God’s people are pulled in new and different directions and the context around them changes, the communities they create will be affected.  The truth is, just like our own lives, congregations also may come to a point where their life comes to an end.

I think part of the problem is that we don’t have a healthy way to talk about this.  It’s kind of like the person who didn’t exercise enough or eat right through their lives.  Maybe that’s part of their demise, but the causes when we’re facing the end aren’t worth dwelling on.  It’s about facing and living through the ending with grace and dignity, not making a list of regrets and shortcomings that brought on the end. Also, it isn’t about clawing tooth and nail for survival, right to the bitter end. 

I digress.  My point here is to raise the issue that we don’t really have the appropriate skillset or role in our current leadership structure to deal with issues of viability and end of life with congregations.  We have mission redevelopers, developers, Directors of Evangelical Mission, assistants to synodical bishops for conflict resolution, and intentional interim pastors.  However, these are roles that assist congregations in transition, not facing a choice about whether to continue on or not.  None of these roles directly addresses the issue of viability and end-of-life with congregations for whom that is a reality.

Do we need a “palliative care” type role among our current pastoral leadership models to address congregations facing serious issues as they face the future – God’s future for both God’s people, and for congregations?

Do we need a pastoral skillset to lead congregations through discernment of their viability?  Do we need compassionate truth tellers who will assist and empower congregations and synod leadership to make an informed decision about the congregation’s viability?

I believe that God is calling us into a conversation about this, and it’s one we need to have no matter how much we’re unwilling to admit more than just a few of our congregations are facing the question of whether or not they’ve reached the end of God’s mission for them in their current state.  If we start with God, then we know that there is a future for us as God’s people; our faith doesn’t die with our congregation, but rather it is the beginning of something new.  The truth is – and we know this – new life often can only happen when we first put to death our own fears and need to survive.

As people of faith, death AND resurrection is who we are.  It is the same for congregations.  We, both individually and communally, often avoid the first.  We need leaders who will come alongside and help us with the issue of viability we simply won’t talk about….but need to.





Filed under Leadership, Missional Thinking & The Church

On “Christianizing” the World & Life

This morning, I checked into Facebook and saw that a Synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA-the church I’m affiliated with) produced a video called “Kid Bishop” that mimicked the popular Kid President videos that have gone viral on YouTube.

Of course, I reacted pretty strongly to it….to put it bluntly, it pissed me off. It’s one of my biggest annoyances with the church and Christian culture in general – taking something from popular culture and putting out a Christian version of it. But, in my rashness I posted a rant on Facebook, which I usually condemn in others. So I’m guilty of hyprocracy and a lack of tact, I’ll own up to that.

Here is my Facebook status post, my reaction to “Kid Bishop.”

1. This is horrible.
2. It isn’t witness or mission.
3. For a church that keeps telling everyone that they’re all about diversity: Really? A white kid? And with the implication his message is better than Kid President’s? (A black kid)
3. I still like Kid President better. A whole lot more.
4. I know I’m being extremely judgmental. But sorry, I think this is just wrong.

I got called on my status by another person in the ELCA…a pastor. And I’m glad she did: one, it reminded me what a jerk I can be sometimes, which I need to be kept in check on (my wife will affirm that!), and two, I got me to reflect a bit more on the problem of what I call “Christianizing” the world and life around us.

First off, when it’s done the quality is poor and it’s just plain cheesy: poor acting, poorly constructed puns and jokes based on insider language. In that light, it makes Christian faith out as some sort of bad novelty. While all for embracing awkwardness and nerdiness, I’m not sure I want the core of Christian faith and the life of the church to be banished to the realm of novelty, a la Trekkies or Star Wars.

I think there is something deeper to Christianizing: it sends the message to both those inside and outside the church that Christian life is significantly of more value than secular life. It effectively says, “The message of the church is infinitely better than any message that the world could ever come up with.” Kid Bishop and his message is infinitely better than Kid President’s. If we believe that, it runs contrary to the core of a Lutheran understanding of mission. Mission is witness: sharing and telling the good news about Jesus Christ. But it’s a witness that says, here is how faith has changed my life and how I see this world. It is NOT a witness that says, faith is important, and this is why you should believe and buy into it.

A good friend of mine hit it on the head – such a statement is only for insiders, those within the church. But it isn’t for those outside the church. And perhaps Christianizing things has a place then…but the result is brand-loyalty, not a deeper sense of an experience with God’s grace and a call to discipleship and mission of witness and service to others.

Christian mission asserts and takes seriously God’s activity and presence in the world….at least in Lutheran circles. When we are constantly Christianizing secular messages and things, we negate the value of a world that God created, redeems and gives life to. We marginalize this world that God loves for the benefit of increasing our piety.

And, we deny God’s very presence and activity in the world and in secular things, which runs contrary to the Theology of the Cross. A Theology of the Cross says that is EXACTLY where God is found – in the world. In ordinary things. In human suffering and weakness. In human longing for reconciliation, freedom, and hope.

I think I’ll keep my rant posted on Facebook, because I think it’s high time the church gets out of the business of Christianizing the world, and instead proclaiming that the messages of hope we hear in the world – cries for justice, love, peace, belonging, community – messages from the likes of Kid President, are synonymous with God’s message to the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics, Missional Thinking & The Church

About Young Adults, the Church, and God

Well, this blog will be short; it’s really a shameless promotion of my post & thesis on The Center for First Third Ministry site.

So here ya go: the link to my blog post. There’s a link there also to my thesis paper which you’re welcome to read. But if you want to spare yourself, there’s also a link to my thesis presentation there too. That’s much shorter, and probably more interesting.

Either way, I’d love to hear any feedback and comments!!!

To head over to the post, click here.

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Filed under Children, Youth, Family & Young Adult Ministry, Leadership

Conversations pt. 3….a weekend of ideas.

This past Saturday, I spent the day with fellow seminary students enrolled in the Children, Youth, and Family (CYF) program at Luther Seminary. We all were presenting our thesis papers, the culmination of 2-4 years of thinking deeply about ministry with people in the first third of life, the church, and our role as leaders in ministry and the church. I will just say, there were a lot of ideas sparked in my head as I listened to classmates – really smart, passionate people. These are ideas and questions I will carry with me as I head into pastoral ministry in a church this year (I hope!), and I want to share some of them with you:

– Stewardship needs to be the lens at which we look at congregational life and ministries, especially in a world of consumerism that drives people to value competition out of scarcity (take what’s mine mentality).

– Should milestone-based ministries be linked to biological events (pregnancy, for example) in our lives just as much as liturgical/religous ones (baptism, comfirmation)? If so, parish nursing becomes a crucial member of a church staff, and in pastoral care ministry.

– Do children’s ministers, directors, and pastors need to adopt a chaplaincy model of ministry to young children (before adolescence) rather than an educational one? Do they need to redefine their commitments to children’s ministries to promoting care and imagination of life, rather than inculcation of information and belief?

– When we use the word “discipleship,” what do we mean? What implications do those definitions have for how the faith is proclaimed, witnessed to, shared, heard, and experienced by those inside and outside the church? (or, in a more provacative way: is disipleship a “dead” word in a post-Christandom church?)

– Do we need a completely new expression of church for young adults (not married, no children, no long-term career), and do we need specific young adult pastors and ministers to do ministry for and with them?

– As Lutherans, what if we looked beyond the confessional understanding of “proclamation = preaching/hearing” and saw it more expansively? What would it mean that a ministry of presence is also a ministry of proclamation, and actually lived that commmitment out? Does community simply mean a space of vulnerability, where our shame is worked through and we are made whole?

– Is there something “unnatural” about Christ, Christianity, and the cross up an against the natural order of the world? What does it mean then that our lives as story are not just merged, but swallowed up by the cross, so that our particularities as humans isn’t wiped away, but rather revealed? Do our current models of congregational life and leadership in the church hinder and hide such particularities?

Lots of good stuff that I wanted to share with you all, so that you may wrestle with it as well, just as I am. I’d love to hear your comments on one, two, or all of them!

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Filed under Leadership