Archives For Ministry

fatigue2Everyday as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed I see all sorts of shared posts about “The 10 Things The Church Needs to do to Survive” or “8 Ways That the Church is Missing the Mark” or countless other stories in the same ilk. I’m not surprised, and in fact I’ve been as guilty as anyone of spreading those stories and driving up the page views which spurs authors on to creating new versions of the same thing (can anyone say Carey Neiuwhof?). Don’t get me wrong — I’ve enjoyed these stories and they’ve spurred much thought (especially Carey’s regular lists). Yet more and more I find myself thinking that we are spending too much time talking about the church rather than getting on with the work of being the church.

Yes, I admit that I am suffering from church talk fatigue. That’s a problem of course for a guy like me because I’m a partner in a company that creates websites that talk about the church. I’ve been an analyzer and a commentator, and contributed my own words about what my own United Methodist Church should do. It’s great fun for someone like me to deconstruct and sometimes even reconstruct in idealistic and hypothetical ways about where we’ve gone wrong and where we need to go from here.

And yes, I confess that I even do it in my own ministry. The fact for many of us is that we ARE serving churches that have experienced numerical and energy decline over the years, and we’ve been tasked to figure out the special sauce that will stem that decline and turn those congregations on the road to vitality. That is, I think, what we all want to do, and in the midst of that challenge it’s easy to spend much time navel gazing trying to figure out how we got here so that we can head in the opposite direction, and we end up developing all sorts of theories and practices about the things that will move us forward.

But my fear is that in all the analysis, all the navel gazing, all the lists on leadership and preaching and hospitality we are talking ourselves to death.

Look, I know all the challenges the congregation I serve faces.

I know that our surrounding community is in decline and filled with much poverty and despair.

I know that we have far more building than we probably need and that we are going to have to find creative partnerships so that the physical plant doesn’t sink us.

I know that our signage is inadequate, that the congregation is aging, that we struggle at times to be truly open and inviting, and that we fail to embrace the diversity that surrounds us.

I can spend all my days analyzing what we are doing wrong and coming up with the hundred things that we need to do to turn things around.

Or…

I can spend my time simply being a Christian and leading the church that I serve to simply be the church, that is a community that is rooted in the Great Commandment of love of God and neighbor, a community which is engaged in connecting people to God, one another, and the world in profound ways, and a community which lives out the teachings of Jesus in the real world.

Maybe it’s time to spend our time being the church instead of talking about what we should be?

Maybe we need to be engaged in the practices that make the church the church — prayer, worship, sacrament, study, and the belief that God is in our midst and offers hope to the world?

Maybe we need to stop talking about how one or the other of us falls short in our sinfulness and brokenness and instead simply need to acknowledge that we all are broken and in need of God’s grace?

Maybe we need to simply acknowledge that our places of power and privilege in the broader society are simply no more and will likely never come back so that we can be focused on offering love and grace rather than trying to build programs and empires?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that we should think about vitality or even church growth, but I am saying that those are by-products of a community that is focused on being the church, not talking about what the church should be.

I don’t know . . . maybe all this talk about the church is helpful.

But I’m finding for me more and more it’s getting in the way of my ability to simply be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

How about you?

anna-shrine-to-mothers-dayI confess that one of the things that has always eluded me is how Mother’s Day has become one of the high holy days in the life of the American church.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I like mothers as much as the next guy. For sure, this year’s Mother’s Day was a struggle in that it was the first time without my mom here on the earth, and walking through the card aisle at the local Rite Aid and realizing that I had no mom to send a card to made my heart sad. But my issue with the holiday lifting up mothers has little to do with my own emotions, and a lot to do with how easily this holiday can be one in which others can be hurt.

You see, what failed to get mentioned in church this past Sunday is how hurtful the entire topic of motherhood can be for some. In our desire to honor those have nurtured us, far too often we neglect the feelings of those whose image of mother is less than whole  . . . those who suffered both physical and mental abuse at the lack of touch and empathy from their moms. Still others want to be mothers, but for some reason the universe has conspired against them and in spite of every effort they are unable to bear children. And there are those who clearly know in their hearts that they have neither the gifts or call to be mothers, but are made to feel guilty be a church that far too often glorifies family and marriage over vocation, faithfulness, and singleness.

Of course, Mother’s Day is exalted because it’s a societal cash cow. The greeting card and gift industry have built this into something major in pursuit of a buck. They’ve manipulated our emotions, knowing that many of us carry around guilt over the way we’ve neglected our parents, and encouraging us to attempt to assuage that guilt through flowers, cards, and restaurant visits. In the church, we’ve come to build up Mother’s Day because very frankly it’s often good for worship attendance when the kids who’ve been away come back to try to make mom happy and go to church with her. I’ve been guilty myself of a campaign encouraging folks to “make mom happy and go to church.”

The problem, of course, is the disconnect between the holiday and those for whom the holiday is a struggle — and we in the church far too often only contribute to the problem. It’s that struggle that I faced this past Sunday in our own celebration of Mother’s Day.

What I tried to do — probably not successfully I should add — was attempt to help folks see that “mother” can be as much a role as a family birth identity. The fact is that I had a pretty good mom who did everything she could to care for me. At the same time, because of her own family history there were simply emotional needs she couldn’t meet — and so along the way I’ve had several surrogate “mothers” along the way. The persons may have been related or simply friends, but they provided guidance and nurture that helped me to grow to who I am today.

I would dare say that there are women (and maybe even some men) in our lives who fulfill the mothering role for us. Our birth mother’s may have been “Mommy Dearest” evil, but these persons came into our lives and picked up the slack, helping us in the journey to be more fully who God wants us to be. Some of these women have children of their own. Others have never had children, but in their love and support of others have fully embraced the identity of “mother.” Maybe we could be better served by focusing less on celebrating those who carried us in the womb for 9 months and focus instead on those who nurtured and raised us throughout our lives. Sometimes that may be the same person. Other times it’s not . . .  and we need to recognize those who lead us to fruitfulness.

The United Methodist Church attempted to deal with this by creating an alternative holiday in place of Mother’s Day — The Festival of the Christian Home. It’s a great ideal, but doesn’t face the cultural reality that Mother’s Day is now a societal norm which isn’t going away anytime soon. Maybe we’d be better served by simply acknowledging that the categories we’ve created for identifying others in our lives — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters — are a lot less rigid and dependent on blood relations than we would make them out to be. Maybe we need to know that these roles are bigger than blood