Lao-tzu, as he begins the Tao Te Ching, says that the Way (Tao) that can be accounted for, or explained, is not the real Way. Remember how Jesus used parables, and only parables, to express the deepest concepts behind the Christian life? As I practice my craft of photography, I am surrounded by numbers. F-stop, shutter speed, and length of lens are recorded in the file of each image. I often review these statistics to see if I am handling my camera the way that I should. This work of the thing, is not the same process as the pursuing of light. If any of the numbers are off, I may fail to capture this or that image.
People came to hear Jesus teach and they asked each other, “What’s different about that guy?” The Gospel writers, who are already shifting into an institutional mindset, offer this answer, “He spoke with authority.” Actually, what people sensed was the natural flow of Jesus’ passion for God. Later, the book of Acts tells how the church, as an institution, was formed. The Apostles note that a man named Stephen was really doing a lot of service for others, so they ordained him a deacon (literally, one who serves). Luke wants to us to observe how organizational innovations like this helped the early church to grow.
How do we know if our ministry, is on the right track? Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” - Matthew 6:22 This is one of many places where he speaks about the binary simplicity of Christian life. Our eyes are either actively attuned to the nuances of the light around us, or we are visually challenged. A local church is either discerning each day its role as a partner of God, or it is lacking in vision. Individual Christians are either prayerfully open to what the spirit is leading them to do today, or they are blind.
Laity will often say that their church needs a young pastor to attract new people, or win back the lost generation(s). There are three problems to this:
• Chronological age is not a good predictor of a pastor’s ability to minister to young families, nor does it correlate with either church growth or a clergy person’s skill at evangelizing borderline Christians.
Simone Weil said, “A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows it is not.” Fortunately, many church leaders know their church’s image is not her reality. Well to do, suburban, congregations often are deluded into believing that their church’s charismatic pastor and modern facilities makes it a great church. Intuitive and theologically aware church leaders know that the congregation’s mission, hope, and strength, lie elsewhere.
Recently, I attended a church where the pastor told a story that I suspect he got from a homiletics service. The problem was, he told the story in first person, i.e., “This is what happened to me.” He then proceeded to use the story to reinforce a theological point that I found questionable. I doubt that anyone else was as troubled by this as I was. First, because most people of that denomination are okay with the theology which I found questionable. Second, because the average church goer doesn’t expect their pastor to lie.
It’s fall, time to set the pastor’s salary. When I reflect back on my career, my most painful moments revolve around this ritual. In my first two situations, the compensation package was literally at the poverty level. I had to plead to get a few dollars above “minimum.” This was in spite of the fact that the churches were doing better than they had under my predecessor. If it wasn’t for the real needs of my family, I would have kept silent at the committee meetings where my salary was under discussion.
Two of the most helpful terms in describing church leaders are Over-Functioning and Under-Functioning. Over-Functioning as a neurotic state is related to codependency. This was first noted in the study of the family systems that surrounded alcoholics. The vacuum in family structure and process created by a drinking parent would suck one or more of the children into adult-sized roles. They would take on tasks that were really not their jobs. As they grew into adulthood and left their family of origin, these wounded souls would characteristically over commit.
Places where we experience the Holy are more common than people who embody holiness. As we watch Pope Francis visit our hemisphere, this seems to be the point neglected by many commentators. The crowds are coming as pilgrims to places where they expect a blessing. No matter what the form our religion takes, we are called to extraordinary prayer in particular places and by contact with those we consider to be Holy. It is important to recognize this fact without getting too analytical.
Too often we think that time management involves finding tricks to multi-task or get everything done efficiently. I want to suggests that time management begins with two simple understandings:
Imprecise language is the bane of group processes. Whether you are Donald Trump, Bill Maher, or the substitute teacher for the kindergarten Sunday school class, your audience deserves a better word choice. Unless you are referring to a recent blow on the head, as in to be knocked stupid, the word “stupid” is always a poor choice. Not only is it inflammatory, it distracts us from the choice we must make whenever we talk about motive. I write novels and none of my characters are stupid. Whenever they make a bad decision or commit a felony, the proper word for what they are doing is either incompetence or malevolence.
All transition has three components. It doesn’t matter if you are moving to a new location, starting a career, or exiting puberty. For general terms you could name the components: body, soul, and relationships. Attention should be paid to each one; failed transitions and broken hearts are often the product of rushing the process and failing to do one or two components well.
It’s important not to get caught up in America’s current political polarization. There was a day in which Republicans were promoting the Fourteenth Amendment instead of seeking to get it repealed. Support of particular political candidates, movements, or parties, often gets the church coopted into simply providing the people to serve someone else’s agenda.