Aug 8 2013

A New Order for Clergy?

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David Fitch(Betty R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary) shared these reflections on his blog “Reclaiming the Mission.” Given the recent conversations in the Church of the Brethren regardingour polity for ministerial leadership, his remarks seemed appropriate to share with our readers. With David’s permission, I have reposted his remarks here. To follow the significant discussion that has already taken place you can click here to head over to the original post. Much thanks to David for sharing his thoughts with Brethren Life and Thought. To read up on the recommendations before the Church of the Brethren, a number of resources are available here.

So I am sure I’m not the firstto come up with this notion (look here for instance), but it seems to me denominations in the West need to create a new category for commissioning leadership. We need an new order of pastors for mission.

For hundreds of years, and still within my lifetime, churches in the West have been confined to the traditional structures of clergy. This order of professional clergy was defined by a time when there was huge demand for the full time pastor to order the entire ministry of a congregation.  Seminaries were structured to educate persons for this role. They learned Biblical exegesis, preaching, administration, pastoral care, leadership, etc. all in one package. The process to ministry included getting a MDiv at a seminary, passing ordination exams and interviews, and then candidating for a post at one of thousands of local churches.

This made sense in U.S.A. , Canada and even Europe in the last 50-75 years.  But the world has changed and we need less and less full time professional clergy. The churches that flourish with full time paid professional staff are large mega churches who need specialists – worship pastor, C.E.O. senior pastor world class communicator, children’s ministry pastor, justice ministry manager, director of outreach, executive pastor, etc.etc. The other kind of churches looking for a full time clergy are the old-fashioned single pastor congregation of Western Christendom. More and more of these churches are floundering smaller congregations looking for a ‘savior.’ It is true that there are more mega churches but they grow on the backs of the shrinking of the old-fashioned single pastor congregation of Western Christendom. As we consolidate existing ‘successful Christians’ into larger and larger churches, the old-fashioned single pastor-small staff churches shrivel unable to even pay one pastor let alone a church secretary.  The net-net result is we need fewer and fewer full time clergy to ‘service’ the remaining Christians left in our society.

I suggest there is a need for a new order of clergy (if I may call it that): a missional leader who can understand the relationship between work and ministry so that it is seamless. He or she dedicates 10-15 hours a week to organizing the Kingdom community in their local context.  He or she knows her gifting and can lead out of that gifting. He or she has a job that he/she can support her/himself and her family with. He/she can develop a job skill that can adapt to changing circumstances. Often, he or she adjust their work hours so that she can work a tad less than the average 40 hour week. He or she can then give time to the leadership of their community without disrupting a daily/weekly rhythm of being present with family and neighborhood as well. The small church community can offer a small stipend to make up the difference. He or she does all this with 3 to 4 other leaders who do the same. Each is recognized for one of the five-fold giftings out of which they minister and lead in relation to the other leaders. They are apostle, prophet, pastor-organizer, teacher-organizer, evangelist working together, 15 hours plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours plus 15 hours. They are doing more out of multiple giftings than one single pastor ever could. They are bearing each other’s burdens. They are a “band of brothers and sisters.” This becomes a sustainable missionary kind of ministry that changes the whole dynamics of ministry because they are present in jobs, families and neighborhoods and makes possible long term ministry in context. It is, in essence, a new version of the old monastic orders of mission adapted to the capitalistic societies in the West while providing the means to resist (and provide witness) to its more oppressive sinful patterns.

Denominations need to define a new order of clergy because anyone seeking to operate in ministry this way will easily get defeated. Some of the more obvious ways they will get defeated are:

  • They will get caught up in bi-vocational ministry where they will be expected to get a full time job, and do the work of a full time minister (because no one changed the expectations). This is chaos and recipe for personal disaster. It simply will never work. We need a new order of clergy then to redefine bi-vocational ministry and fund a new imagination for what this kind of order of mission might look like.
  • They will get ordained into ministry and become bi-vocational and missional but the denominations will still expect them to fulfill all the old requirements of the traditional form of full time pastorate.  They will have to go to local ministerial associations, represent the church at local events, make sure the furnace is working at the church, take care of funerals and attend civic events, fill out data sheets for the denomination. But reality is, they have other jobs! They need to be given credentials that recognize the new rhythms of life they have committed themselves to. (This stuff nearly killed me when I was a bi-vocational pastor).
  • They will get a job, take up local contextual ministry and they will not understand the relationship between their work and ministerial leadership calling. They will not know how to look at their jobs once they get successful. They will not be able to be comfortable with 15 hours a week working for the organization of the church (because no one provided these expectations). They will not know what it means when their churches start to grow and some leaders ask them to quit their jobs because they will have allowed the identity of their jobs and its monetary success to overwhelm them. An imagination for the way work and ministry and family (when there is one) go together needs to be cultivated and this can best be done through defining a new order of clergy and then bringing those practicing together to discuss and offer visions for what this looks like.

For all these reasons we need to fund a new imagination for a new emerging clergy class that are in essence self sustaining contextual N. American missionaries. But the denominations for the most part have not navigated this. My guess is, if the denominations formed a new order of clergy, helped developed imagination and supporting structures for it, there would be untold numbers flocking to this group. There are literally thousands of second career people, and thousands of younger seminary graduates  dissatisfied with current options (dying small church senior pastor or mega church staff person) who would gravitate towards this kind of commissioning.  But we have no larger imagination for it. A new order of clergy could help and support these kind of missionaries and stir up such an imagination. Such an order of clergy could seed a whole new mission for a renewal of the Kingdom in N America.

What do you think? Denominational leaders, do you have such an order of clergy in your structures? Of course, it goes without saying that we need to fund the education of this new order of clergy differently, not taking people out of their context, but providing training along the way over longer (more affordable) periods of time.  There are many seminaries preparing to do this. We know we have to do it. I can’t wait til Northern unveils its new program for doing just that.

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David Fitch is the Betty R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary and part of the pastoral leadership of Life on the Vine, a congregation in suburban Chicago. He has published several books, including End of Evangelicalism (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Prodigal Christianity with GeoffHolsclaw (Jossey-Bass, 2013).

 

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Apr 3 2013

Small Groups in Congregational Life

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Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, VA recently shared some observations on small groups in church life in preparation for their congregational business meeting. In this post Tim discusses the components of vibrant small groups in the life of the congregation. The post was originally shared on Tim’s blog on the Central congregation’s website

Our congregation has recently experienced renewal through the ministry of the Hunger Group. Originally conceived as a short-term study group in the summer of 2011, these Central members have found renewed energy, focus, and challenge through their commitment to understand and alleviate hunger in the Roanoke Valley.  We have each benefitted from their leadership.

Small groups are not new to the history of the church. In fact, the Church of the Brethren began as a small group, as eight persons gathered for Bible Study, prayer and baptism in 1708.  Many Christians throughout the years have found a deepened sense of faith and commitment through the shared life of a small group.

In order to be effective, a small group needs to find togetherness in the following areas:  someone to bring the group together; a commitment to stay together; a focus which guides theirstudy together; opportunities to do mission together; chances to get together; and times to pray together.

The first two categories are the minimum commitment for a small group to exist in any meaningful way; without these, the group is significantly flawed and will struggle to accomplish effective ministry.

Leadership is what brings the group together.  Leadership takes a number of forms:  a convener; a study leader; a fellowship coordinator; a mission coordinator, just to name a few.  In fact, an effective small group will divide up these tasks among the group members, thus sharing in the overall group planning.

A commitment to stay together is also critical.  This commitment will vary from group to group, depending on the purpose.  A prayer group or life-stage group may stay together indefinitely; a study group (like we offer in the summer) or a focus group (like our membership class) will meet for a short period of time, or until a particular task is complete.  Whatever the case may be with each group, commitment must be clearly stated and agreed upon:  how often the group meets, how long the group plans to exist, and what members do to prepare for group meetings are key questions.

The next four categories will vary from group to group, depending on the purpose of the group.  They need not exist in equal proportion, but will be present in some form:

A small group should study together.  This will likely be what brought the group together in the first place; whether the group is a Sunday School class or a mission group, a time of study will open our minds to greater understanding of God’s activity in our lives and in the world around us.

A small group should do mission together.  Whatever the purpose of the group, there should be some project that takes the group outside of itself into the community.  When we put mission first in our lives, the Spirit opens up some interesting doors.

A small group should get together for fellowship.  Whatever the main purpose of the group (mission, study, prayer, etc.), the overall group experience will be enhanced by spending time together doing other things.  Deep relationships centered around fellowship can powerfully impact the group’s commitment.

Finally, a small group should pray together, encouraging one another in their shared spiritual growth.  Through prayer and discussion, group members can help one another grow in deeper faith and commitment.

As our congregation moves forward and seeks continued renewal and growth, small groups should be at the forefront of our thinking.  Approaching our Spring Council Meeting, I see several implications of small group thinking for our congregation.

First, the days of measuring church commitment by a willingness to serve on a committee are over.  Instead, small groups with a strong emphasis on mission and spiritual growth must be the priority of our congregation.

Second, consider the small group(s) (Sunday School classes) you are in.  How are the above six characteristics on display in that group?  Is there a clear investment in shared leadership?  Have each of the members in the group expressed their own commitment to the group?  In what proportion are the qualities of study, mission, fellowship, and prayer present?   If these qualities are there, then thanks be to God!  If they are not, is it time for some soul-searching among group members?  Could it be that the group has simply outlived its original purpose?  Is it time for the group to be either renewed or disbanded so members can reform into a new group?

Tim HarveyTim Harvey is pastor of Central Church of the Brethren in downtown Roanoke, VA. He and the congregation work hard at issues of renewal and revitalization, both in the congregation and in the downtown community. Issues of spiritual and literal hunger are recurring themes in their mission and ministry. And yes, he rides a unicycle!

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Feb 15 2012

A Look at Ordination the Church of the Brethren

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Dana Cassell.

In its entry on “Degrees of Ministry,” The Brethren Encyclopedia declares, “traditionally, Brethren have not been concerned with precise titles or names for their elected church officials.” This is true, and sometimes maddening. This paper was originally prepared for the Ministry Advisory Council, and grew out of research that I had been doing for last year’s celebration of the 50thanniversary of women’s ordination in the Church of the Brethren. That initial research was frustrating because of the lack of unified titles in our ever-changing credentialing system. Some of the early women in leadership listed themselves as ordained, some as permanently licensed, some simply as “ministers.” This work led me to investigate the history of ordination in the CoB in an attempt to answer this one question: What does it mean to be ordained in the Church of the Brethren?

There’s no readily apparent answer to this question, but I have some findings to share with you. You’ve probably heard or known at least some of this before, but my hope is that this compiled history is helpful in telling a somewhat coherent story of our history of choosing leadership, and in our current and future discernment about how we continue to do so.

For two hundred years, Brethren ministers operated in a plural, non-salaried system. Each congregation had several ministers, or elders, and none of these men (and they were all men, except for a very few instances where a woman fulfilled the duties of her incapacitated husband) were paid. In 1855, Annual Meeting described three ministerial offices, filled by congregational elections conducted by adjoining elders. The degrees were to be identified by functions and duties associated with them:

  • 1st: The “speaker” was to preach or conduct worship service with permission of 2nd or 3rd degree minister.
  • 2nd: Elected from membership or an advanced 1st degree minister, a minister of the 2nd degree was authorized to preach, appoint or schedule worship meetings, administer baptism, perform marriages, and officiate at love feast in absence of an elder.
  • 3rd: Those elected into eldership/full ministry were senior members of the 2nd degree ministers. They were the only leaders ordained through the laying on of hands, and were authorized to preside at council meetings, to install deacons or ministers, to anoint the ill, and to conduct love feasts.

This description from Annual Meeting seems to be descriptive and not prescriptive: this is, roughly, what was already happening in congregations. It describes an organic system of homegrown leadership: there was a built-in mentoring program, each leader required full congregational approval, and the “credentials” or “titles” were associated with functions and practices – not personal qualities or “leadership ability,” though these things certainly factored in. Leadership was chosen in response to congregational need and not personal initiative: ministers were “advanced” to the next degree of ministry based on seniority when a congregation needed another elder. Volunteering for a position of ministerial leadership was a surefire way NOT to be chosen. Peter Nead, a passionate member of the conservative camp, insisted in his theological writings that there are 3 types of preachers:

 usually the self-called preacher was out to start a new sect, and was therefore accountable to no one. The man called preacher was a hireling, and therefore was most interested in pleasing his employers so that he would have a good living. Only the called of the Lord was motivated to please God and seek Gods approval…the only way to know who the Lord called was to consult the church…The ministers of the true church are not hirelings: it is the love of God; and not the filthy lucre, that constrains them to preach the gospel.1

Nead’s fears that ill-chosen leadership would lead to sectarianism and customer-service mentality were not unfounded. Conrad Beissel’s Ephrata cloister experiment was a classic example of ministerial leadership gone awry. Beisel claimed for himself a divine status and authority, and those in his group submitted to him. For those in the cloister, Beissel’s word carried more weight that either scripture OR the gathered discernment of the body – sources which had held utmost authority in traditional Brethren ecclesiology. Similarly, Brethren had long been at odds with “hireling” preachers, citing the failures of the institutional clergy as one of the initial reasons for leaving the state churches in Germany. Nead’s warnings came from collective Brethren experience, and they arose in the beginnings of what was to be an unending debate about how to define “the ministry.”

In the mid-19th century, Annual Meeting began to deal with divisive and confusing issues surrounding the ministry – what ordination meant, how it should be granted, if ministers ought to be paid, whether or not education was necessary or problematic for those in church leadership. These questions were part of a larger struggle between conservatives and progressives that would lead to serious fractures and the eventual institutionalization of the Schwarzenau movement into the Church of the Brethren and other denominational bodies.
The first major question to come before Annual Meeting was whether or not a minister ought to be compensated for his work. Like so many queries, this was a practical question that veiled a larger struggle: ought the ministry be a professional vocation? Compensation was a hot topic, generating impassioned speeches, sermons, and periodical articles.

The Conservatives were firmly against an educated, paid, professional ministry, but progressives insisted that the professional minister was the only way to keep up with a swiftly changing world. This particular issue factored largely into the splits of 1881-1882. The Conservatives focused on biblical precedent, citing Jesus’ commission to the disciples, sending them out without silver or gold in their purses. Similarly, they appealed to the Acts account of believers sharing their possessions (Acts 4:34) to warn against personal income. The salaried ministry was “deplored as a corrupt, parasitic system which was dangerous to vital Christianity, also against an educated ministry, which was viewed as despising the humble, unassuming lifestyle of primitive Christianity.”2 An 1845 Henry Kurtz sermon, quoted in John Kline’s diary, paints the position vividly:

I have to say that God never meant for the Gospel to be used as a means for getting water to the preacher’s mill, or grain into his garner. When the Gospel is converted into merchandise, the preacher becomes a merchant, and like all other merchants it becomes his interest to handle his goods in a way that will please his customers, and put them in such shape and procure for them such kinds, whether good, bad, or indifferent, as will suit their fancies and please their tastes. The love of money is a root of all evil, no less in the ministry than anywhere else.3

The Progressives, whose opinions would ultimately shape the Church of the Brethren, argued that a paid ministry would free ministers from the distractions of full-time employment, enabling them to devote their full attention to the ministry of the church. In a changing and urbanizing society, they argued, the church must change to keep up with the needs of the world:

The church’s historic belief in imitating Jesus’ love and living according to the Sermon on the Mount necessitated a change in attitude toward industrial and urban society in the latter half of the 19th century. The work of ministry was progressively seen as an adaptation to and an extension of Christ’s message to a society in need.4

Debate raged at Annual Meeting, as the church gradually accepted an educated, salaried, professional ministry. But change did not happen all at once.

In 1856, AM insisted that payment for ministerial services was against the gospel, and not allowed. In 1861, however, AM agreed that financial support for ministers was appropriate in “times of necessity or hardship.” In 1866, “supporting the ministry” became allowable, but a stated salary remained unacceptable. Again in 1882, AM affirmed that there is to be “no specified sum per day, week, month or year, paid to ministers on missions or any other work; but the Mission Board or Committee having control of funds may donate to ministers such sums as in their judgment their circumstances require.”

As is often the case, practice changed before polity, and in 1891, Tobias T. Myers of Philadelphia became the first full-time salaried Brethren pastor. It took another 20 years, however until Annual Meeting finally officially allowed congregations to pay their ministers set salaries. Despite its long history of plural, non-salaried ministry, the church had gone from adamantly opposed to a professional ministry in 1856 to grudgingly accepting it as inevitable in 1911. In another 25 years (1939), the General Brotherhood Board would actually be actively encouraging congregations of 200 or more to hire a full-time, seminary-trained, salaried minister. A 1951 statement explains their motivation: “We believe that a consecrated, trained pastoral ministry, properly supported both financially and with the cooperative efforts of the membership, will be the most efficient ministry in making the church an adequate influence in the community through an adequate organization of its resources for worship, fellowship, and service.”

In addition to compensation, the shift to a professional ministry also meant changes in processes of calling out leadership and in educational expectations. In 1915, Annual Meeting agreed to allow individuals to volunteer for ministry. The same decision advised the establishment of educational standards for ministry, and permitted employment of pastors – though ministers were still encouraged to give their services to the church for free. In 1921, the General Ministerial Board was created to “promote the growing trend for each congregation to have its own professionally trained and salaried pastor,” and in 1922, the designation of “licensed” pastor was created – allowing beginning ministers (including women) to preach, but perform no other functions. Responsibility for ordination officially shifted from the congregation to the district in 1921, and in 1923 the first official Pastor’s Manual was published – an official guide that confirmed the breakdown of the personal mentoring inherent in the old degree system of ministry. Perception had changed so drastically that Edgar Petry could write in his 1942 Bethany thesis that

The full-time pastorate represents the maximum adaptation to modern life. It is the result of the movement to meet the needs of people in a scientific and industrial world…It provides for a more systematic and efficient carrying out of the functions of the minister and of the church. It elevates the place and work of the minister in the church and community and releases him from the task of making a living.

These changes led to a lack of uniformity across the denomination – some congregations still used the degree system of ministry (even though AM had combined the 1st and 2nddegrees into the category of “ministers” in 1917), and others were employing licensed or ordained pastors. In 1957, to clarify the functions of the various leadership positions, Annual Conference listed the duties of elders and the duties of pastors. A decade later, in 1967, AC finally discontinued the office of elder, combining elders and ministers into the category of “ordained ministers.” Despite this merger, no new list of duties or functions was created for these “ordained ministers.” In one century, ministerial leadership had undergone a complete transformation in the Church of the Brethren – but nowhere did the denomination define or document what, exactly, these changes implied.

The confusion persists. In nearly every decade, Brethren voices have called for clarification. In 1950, Floyd Mallot contended that “the future of the church depends upon the surmounting of the problems that arise out of the change from the free to the professional ministry.In 1978, Floyd Bantz wrote in a Brethren Life and Thought article;

We know deep down inside ourselves, apparently, that there is a set-apart ministry, but we aren’t sure why there is, nor what it is to do. We certainly do not want that set-apart ministry to have any intermediary power. We want to control its institutional authority and we are not sure just what are its unique training and skills…We are not sure we know what ordination means but we do raise questions about continuing ordination for those who do not do what ordination means.5

In 1987, a Believer’s Church conference took on the subject of ministry. The Findings Committee listed pressing questions about ministry for the Anabaptist communities:

  • We need a more precise working definition of “universal ministry,” “ordination,” and “gifts.”
  • We are uncertain about the process for employing spiritual gifts. What is the balance between the individual’s leading and the faith community’s calling?
  • What structures and forms at the local and denominational level are best suited to carry out the vision of ministry of all believers?
  • There was uneasiness expressed with formal graduate level training programs for vocational profession of “minister.” What forms of training are most suitable for the universal ministry of all believers?6

A 1997 Survey of Brethren women in ministry by Rebecca Slough and Debbie Eisenbise showed that ordained women in the Church of the Brethren tend to see their ordination less as a spiritual or communal commitment and more as an institutional pass or credential needed to fulfill their calling. These findings, the authors say, “leave open the question of what ordination actually means for Church of the Brethren women pastors.”7

The implications of this confusion and lack of clarity on what, exactly, ordination means are not pretty. Because we lack a working definition of our leadership credentials, the title and office of “minister” has been used as an instrument of injustice. Granted, the old 3-degrees system was certainly not free of nepotism, sexism, and prejudice. But since moving from that mode of ministerial leadership to this institutionalized system of ordination, the Church of the Brethren has found itself with an undefined credential. We are very reluctant to define or delineate who CAN or SHOULD be ordained, but have not hesitated to create a list of those who CANNOT or OUGHT NOT be: remarried people (1933), women (until 1958), homosexual people (2002).8

I don’t mean to paint this ambivalence about institutional leadership as all bad. I think there are, in fact, some benefits to operating without clear polity and doctrine. And yet, we continually call ourselves to define ordination, to call gifted leadership, and to figure out what it is that we expect in the ministerial leaders of our church. And so, my question is, is it possible to define ordination in the Church of the Brethren, given the crooked path we’ve taken to get to where we are today?

  1. Peter Nead, “Theological Writings on Various Subjects; or, ‘A vindication of…” (Dayton, OH: B.F. Eller), 1850. []
  2. “Ministry,” Brethren Encyclopedia, Donald Durnbaugh, ed. (Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc) 2003. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Floyd E, Mallot, Studies in Brethren History (Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House) 1983. []
  5. Floyd Bantz, “Liturgical Connection: Reflections upon the Meaning of Ordination,” in Brethren Life and Thought, 23 no 2, Spring 1978. 72. []
  6. David B. Eller, Servants of the Word: Ministry in the Believers’ Church (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press) 1990. []
  7. Rebecca Slough and Debbie Eisenbise, “The Significance of Theological Education in the Career Development of Women in Ministry: A Case Study in the Church of the Brethren” in Brethren Life and Thought, vol. 42 no 1-2, Winter-Spring 1997. []
  8. Each of these decisions came in the form of an Annual Conference decision. []
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Feb 7 2012

Leaders Living Integrated Lives

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

 

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Anna Lisa Gross.


Narrative and identity

In postmodernity, narrative and identity are key. Narrative is the method of truth-seeking, meaning-making – and just like so many movements that we’re experiencing, this is not new, as the Old Testament and parables show. So, narrative is the method of meaning-making. Identity is the way of moving through the world, the foundation for our living. No one can speak with authority outside their own social location (class, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, ability, age, education, et cetera), and identity is increasingly about social location more than any one specific role that we play in our lives. I can’t speak with authority on being a mother, or having disabilities, or being a gay man because they are outside my social location. This is one of many reasons that leadership needs to be representative of the full spectrum of humanity, so we can hear the real narratives of real people, rooted in their own identities, especially as the Church of the Brethren and the culture are increasingly asking for multicultural conversation. But first, we need to talk and reflect deeply about our own ethnic identities before we can hope to build strong multiethnic relationships and we need to talk and reflect deeply about our own sexuality before we can make proclamations about someone else’s, et cetera.

Integration and boundaries

How many of you have an email address?

  • How many of you have a single email address that you use for work, for family, for school friends, for community involvement?
  • How many of you have a separate address for many of these aspects of your lives?
  • How many of you use Gmail, or another program that pulls all of your email accounts into one inbox?

Technology allows for and encourages integrated lives. We are available 24/7, as we’ve already talked about, to our work, our family, our friends, our community involvement, and each of these aspects of our lives can show up when we’re trying to focus on another. Technology will only increasingly affect culture in this way. Is that good or bad? Who knows? Perhaps we won’t know until we’re able to look back on this time. For now, what feels right for you?

How can the church, especially congregations, support leaders whose lives are integrated in these ways? We’ve moved from a model of leadership that had few boundaries, to one obsessed with boundaries, to this time of integration. Take for example, Ed. Ed IS a pastor, he claims this as his identity, his fundamental way of interacting with the world – no boundaries between work identity and home identity, because work is everything. Or, Sue. Sue is a minster, Sue is a friend, a daughter, a writer, etc. She has clear boundaries between each role, and seeks self-care (sometimes by switching to a different role that is more comfortable). Or, Alex. Alex is Alex. Alex ministers, is married, studies, serves on boards, but Alex is Alex.

I am part of this emerging model, and because that is my perspective, it’s easy to prefer it. But certainly there are strengths and weaknesses of each model. And certainly these movements are not determined only by generation: personality and culture matter, too.

Ed’s model of no boundaries could invite integrity – he’s a pastor everywhere he goes, so he probably wants people to see him fulfilling that role with integrity – and we know we have high standards for pastors’ morality. But many leaders in this model desperately need time to let down their guard and live into their flaws. In fact, the more we try to show a public, flawless face, the stronger our faults can be in our lives. For many pastors and other leaders, this has meant that a secret life emerges, where those with less power – often their children or spouse or others, suffer.

Sue’s model of clear divisions between roles could invite secrets – a part of her home life that she doesn’t share with her workplace, for example. And I’m not talking here about specifics – I don’t mean to suggest that anyone give all the details of their sex lives to their congregation, but that ministers be comfortable acknowledging that they’re even dating – and I know pastors who will NOT share this information with their churches. But the element of self-care can allow for healthier home life, work life, and greater longevity in all of these roles. Intentionally choosing a place in life to be a flawed person can mean that faults are lived into, rather than taking on a life of their own.

In Alex’s emerging model, all of who we are is present in all of what we do. In a counseling session, Sue may find that a parishioner’s struggle with her mother is triggering Sue’s own painful relationship with her mother, but because she is in “pastor” role, she shuts that door to focus on the parishioner. But Alex might think, “wow, I feel strong emotions rising that are about my own relationship with my mother, not about this woman’s story. What does this emotion teach me, and what are the differences between our stories that I need to remain aware of?”

Our struggles, failures, and doubts must be able to enter our lives in all aspects, including our leadership in the church. Have you heard these things during joys and concerns time?

  •  I’m drowning in credit card debt.
  • I’m ashamed of my sexual desires.
  • I can’t pray.

How can leaders model this vulnerability? Are there things we do NOT want ministers to be vulnerable and honest about? Should any of these things preclude someone from church leadership? I don’t think so – in fact, I think leaders who can hold these struggles in tension with their faith and commitment are particularly strong. Leaders in the church should not be morally perfect people – even if we could agree on what that would mean, it’s impossible. Leaders in the church should be as imperfect as anyone else, but willing to share vulnerably their imperfections. The very stories of their struggles – and their successes over struggles – are valuable testimonials.

And leadership is more than just airtime – we must lead with listening, and lead even when no one can see what we’re doing. How do we honor the vulnerability of others? How do we facilitate communities that honor each others’ vulnerability?

I said earlier that, beginning in our own narratives and identities, we need to talk deeply about our own sexualities, for example, before we make proclamations about other’s sexualities. This summer, Annual Conference passed revisions to the Ministerial Ethics Paper that specified that ministers should not have sex outside of marriage. I know many of you here, and I know that most of you, including myself, have had sex before and/or outside of marriage. So how can we pass a paper saying that ministers should not have sex before marriage, without acknowledging how many of us have and exploring why?

Those of us who are now married may be able to more easily vote for a paper with this language. Even if we did have sex before marriage, or even if we’re having sex outside of our current marriage, we’re much safer in the eyes of the church. But married people passing such a ruling has significant implications for single people, and people in committed relationships not generally accepted by the church (most obvious of which are same-sex relationships).

So this brings up privilege. It is just a fact that some identities give us more privilege than others. When we speak out of our privileged identities, for example, when I speak as a white person, I need to be particularly intentional about language and power. And I believe that Matt used his own male privilege very well earlier, pointing out to other men that the talking space was being dominated by men. Matt, as a man, can do this without eliciting the backlash that a woman might – you know, being called a feminist, or something. Matt can be called a feminist without it threatening his social influence.

Back to Alex’s model – living integrated lives means that self-care takes a very different form. We don’t necessarily find healing by switching roles, because our core self is involved in all aspects of our lives, and our core self is what needs rejuvenation. So we don’t shut the door on work to relax. Instead, we try to make work better. We don’t settle for poorly facilitated meetings, knowing we can go home, turn on the TV and forget about it – we strive for better facilitation. We don’t lose ourselves in an 80-hour work week to avoid the problems we’re having with our spouse – we know the problems we have at home affect who we are at work, and must be addressed directly. Similarly, we’re resisting the current over-mobility of our culture – moving around the world for school and jobs. Instead we’re seeking a deep relationship with a specific location, and technology can aid us in this. Of course, telecommuting and similar technology is still not available to all – we can’t assume it’s a common ground.

This model really is emerging – many of us in this room are still in Sue’s model, some, perhaps, in Ed’s, perhaps a combination of two or three. But I believe that most people 20 and younger are living primarily in Alex’s model. Facebook can be an example, here, as well. There is serious concern about what of our personal lives might end up on Facebook and affect our current or future employment. But the teenagers I know with Facebook accounts are not concerned about a picture of them with a beer affecting their future work opportunities. This may be youthful ignorance or short-sightedness. It may be a desire for complete authenticity. It surely is a combination of both. And this integration will only increase as the technology that fuels it advances, and as people relish their integrated lives.

What do you want as a leader in the church? To keep parts of your life fully private? To live a life that can’t be criticized? To live in a community that sees all of who you are, accepts you fully, and joins you on an authentic journey toward wholeness?

What narrative do you tell with authority that the world needs to hear?

How is your life boundaried? How is your life integrated?

 

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Jan 24 2012

Contemplating Our Changing, Challenging Culture

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Matthew E. McKimmy.

How do we even begin a conversation on a topic as broad as culture? There are so many angles from which you might approach it, and it can mean so many different things. Therefore, I think that my first order of business should be to state what aspect of culture it is I intend to address.

Like any modern young adult looking for a quick and general overview of a topic, I headed to Wikipedia to see what it had to say about how we might define culture. Some possibilities I was presented: that culture is a general process of intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; OR a particular way of life, whether of a people, period, or a group; OR the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity. The article then goes on to muddy things even further by saying culture can also be a mixture of these three.

So examples of culture can be anything from the particular, individual social constructions we use to relate with one another to the broad patterns and structures of human activity that define the entirety of our lives. As I speak to you today, it is the later, more “macro” aspect of culture I plan to address: the broad social constructions we operate within on a daily basis.

There is a definite advantage to being the first person to present at an event like this, where our topics intentionally begin broadly and then circle closer and closer to a more defined focus. The way I see it, I get to set the ball rolling by giving the pot a good stir, priming the pump, and bringing up some of the big questions that our subsequent topics and conversations must be mindful of.

Despite what some folks may say, or hope, or even preach, culture is inescapable. We cannot fully remove ourselves from culture, we can only seek to experience it differently.

The phrase “in the world but not of the world” gets tossed around a lot when the subject of culture comes up. I think it’s a good description of the inescapable nature of culture. We cannot help but be in the world, taking part in culture, but we must also recognize how that affects us. We are called to be aware of culture and avoid being blindly shaped by it, as best we can.

So who am I to talk about culture? Who am I to be here and a part of this presentation at all? This is an important question for all of us any time we attempt to discuss culture, for our social locations greatly impact our perceptions, opinions, and understandings.

A bit of background; some transparency about where I’m coming from as I speak on culture: I’m a white, twenty-something male from a lower-middle class background. I’ve spent over a third of my life as a full-time college student, and now, after finishing my M.Div. at Bethany in May 2008, I’ve been a full-time pastor since June 2008. Until relocating to attend seminary my predominant life experience was semi-rural and medium-sized-city life in Southwest Virginia. Now I call the small city of Richmond, Indiana home.

None of these places are the sort you might consider to be at the cutting edge of culture. If anything you might say they’re more likely behind the curve when it comes to the big-picture cultural shifts of the 21st century.

In many ways, our culture today is defined by such shifts. We are in a liminal time, a time in-between, in transition from what has been to what we are moving towards. While there are people who may refute the very existence of some of the particular trends and movements that I’m about to touch on, few can deny that there are massive cultural shifts underway in the world today.

The modern era has been shaped by a continual push for progress in all areas of human life, rooted in the ideals of the enlightenment. But somewhere in the middle of the 20th century we began to realize we might not be capable of the constant progress we hoped for. In a milieu of world wars, genocides, and other local and global atrocities the concept of post-modernity began to emerge. In our current age of seemingly endless information and advanced communications technology, post-modernity continues to gain traction. Absolute truths are looked upon with utmost skepticism. Traditional understandings of every realm of human experience are openly questioned.

Yet we are not a fully post-modern culture. We may be moving in that direction, but we have not yet arrived. Who knows, we may never fully arrive! It’s not an either-or proposition, whether we experience life and culture as modern or post-modern. Rather it is always an awkward mix of the two, which inevitably causes conflict and confusion along the way.

Similarly, our culture is shifting away from when Christianity has greatly influenced and shaped the predominant worldview. We’re moving into a time of post-Christendom where the influence of the church is greatly diminishing. Many people are questioning the relevance of the institutional church, wondering what role it will play in their lives and in culture in general. Not only intellectuals, scholars, and so on, but everyday folks in small cities and towns like Richmond, Indiana. This is especially true amongst us young adults. There are very few churches in the western world where the proportion of young adults is reflective of the number of young adults in the general population.

Some writers and thinkers have even gone so far as to say that rather than just moving into a period of post-Christendom, we are instead moving into a post-Christian or even post-religious era. This is less a statement about our culture’s overall desire to connect with the transcendent as it is a critique on the institutional nature of the Christian Church. I’m mindful of books like Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not the Church and Spencer Burke’s Heretic’s Guide to Eternity that speak to many people’s desire to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus but also reflect a cultural backlash against how these are commonly put into practice within the church.

As we enter into conversations on the Church and Leadership, this cultural trend towards re-thinking the role and shape of the church as an institution cannot be ignored.

Another place this trend is reflected is in the shift towards post-denominationalism. Even for me, someone who has been brought up in the Church of the Brethren and is deeply committed to it, I can see where this is coming from. For decades now most denominations have been in decline. The churches where the most growth is now taking place tend to be non-denominational, or at most loosely associated with various evangelical or Pentecostal movements.

Whereas denominational identity once more clearly defined the beliefs and practices of a congregation or individual, now at most it might give an idea of preferred worship style and general theological leanings, and often not even that. These days it’s more common to find greater differences within denominations than between them. For example I know Brethren who feel a closer spiritual kinship with Methodists, Quakers, Baptists, or Episcopals than with other Brethren, despite still holding firmly to their identity of being Brethren.

If there is one constant in our culture it is that we are constantly in a state of flux, changing between what was and what is still emerging. Our constant is change, and it seems to be taking place at an increasingly rapid rate.

Deep change is afoot within culture, society, and in turn the church. Change that we haven’t experienced in centuries. Phyllis Tickle and others have likened this time we live in to other so-called “great” periods in the history of the western world, such as the Great Schism or the Reformation. If you haven’t already read her latest book The Great Emergence, I highly recommend it.

As I look at the tremendous cultural changes that have taken place in the lives of people my grandparents age, just a couple generations older than me, it’s difficult for me to imagine that the social and cultural changes I will likely face in my lifetime will be exponentially greater.

One question comes to my mind in the midst of all this cultural and social change: why are we so determined to define ourselves in terms of what we have been and are no longer, post-this or post-that?

Instead, why can’t we be proactive, recognizing where God is at work in our time, our culture, claim that for what it is, and seek to faithfully take part? Rather than lamenting change and trying to put the brakes on it, why not find it an opportunity for transformation. Our recent Annual Conference theme comes to mind: “The old is gone, the new has come, all this is from God!” Is it possible for us to claim aspects of these cultural changes as God at work in our lives?

I guess I should admit I’m very much a practical theologian. After all, what good is thinking and talking about what is going on in our culture and society and where God fits in if we as people of faith aren’t willing to act accordingly? Yes the world and our culture are changing, and so must we!

I challenge us all, in our conversations both here and beyond, to not simply lament what is no longer and how we’ve become so disconnected from culture, but to instead speak of how we can and are rising to these challenges we face.

Yes, we live in a time where spirituality is of much greater societal interest than traditional, institutional church participation. We’ve probably all talked to folks who are “spiritual but not religious.” How do we help ourselves and others to recognize God’s movement in that desire for connection with the Spirit, and to respond?

Our culture is moving in ways that value relationship and authenticity more than hierarchy and expertise. Servant leadership and flat, shared administrative structures have been gaining traction in the world outside the church for a while now. With tremendous repositories of resources available at people’s fingertips, via the internet and other means, learned expertise isn’t as crucial to gathering raw information we as it once was. How can we seek to be more relational and authentic in ways that reflect Christ to our culture?

As Christianity finds itself farther on the margins of mainstream society how can we adopt a sense of mission that recognizes our own cities and towns to be just as viable mission fields as locations on other continents? How can we cultivate a missional attitude that reflects the mission of Jesus: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and bringing good news to the marginalized and oppressed people that we live among?

We all know our denomination is struggling with its identity. So are many others. Is there a way for us to reclaim a distinctive Brethren identity in a way that is welcoming of our internal diversity and also relevant to a changing culture? How can we claim our history of ecumenism and continue to nurture it in radical new ways as what it means to be a denomination continues to change?

Brothers and sisters, these are just some of the challenges, or rather opportunities, that our current culture affords. This is the context in which all our conversations during this forum are taking place. It is the context in which our lives and ministries as individuals and as the church take place. We cannot allow our visions to become too narrow because we choose not to see what is happening around us, for our voices to become constrained by the fear of speaking the truth to power, for questions to go unasked because we know there are no ready-made answers.

As we prepare to boldly, openly, and authentically begin our conversations in this space, I leave you with you this question to contemplate concerning culture: Which of these many cultural shifts and changes do you feel present us with the greatest challenges and opportunities as followers of Jesus?

 

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Jan 17 2012

Young Adults and the Church

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Jordan Blevins.

Gregory Boyd writes, in an article in the Christian Century,

Jesus revolted against the powers that fragment relationships by modeling what communal life under the reign of God looks like. Though he was the Son of God, he didn’t try to go solo in his life and ministry. He had a network of friends, like Mary and Martha, on whom he could rely when he traveled. He banded with a group of 12 disciples who traveled and ministered with him. And he chose three people (Peter, James and John) to form his most intimate circle of friends. His life manifested the truth that where God reigns, individuals will be united together in close-knit communities.1

I have been extremely blessed over the last 6 months or so with my involvement in the Young Adult community in the church – both the Church of the Brethren and the larger ecumenical church. I serve on the Young Adult Task Force of the US Conference of the World Council of Churches, the Young Adult Steering Committee of the Church of the Brethren, and was a part of the planning committee for this gathering of young adults that took place in Arizona in December. And as I reflect on all of these experiences, one thing jumps out – young adults get what Gregory Boyd is talking about.

Roughly 30 of us gathered in Arizona in December 2008 to talk about what the future of leadership in the Church of the Brethren should look like – particularly in the context of the Church of the Brethren Ministerial Leadership Paper, and looking at revising that. But, it couldn’t just be that simple. To consider what leadership would look like, we had to think about what the church looks like. And to properly consider what the church looks like, we had to think about what the culture in which the church resides looks like. And so that is how our conversations moved. As Dana Cassell, Matt McKimmy, myself, and Josh Brockway wrestled with the framing of this conversation – and as I looked back over our planning notes, one particular piece of our conversation stuck out at me. Young adults don’t necessarily want to be a part of a committee or team that meets regularly and just does church business, but part of relationships and conversations. We want a more organic process, a more casual form of leadership. This also caused me to reflect on another piece of Gregory Boyd’s article, when he wrote

Think about it. Once a week we go to church (a religious building) rather than seeing ourselves as the church. As good consumers we typically choose a church on the basis of our own preferences, conveniences and needs. Since we’re conditioned to assume that ‘the customer is always right’, we believe we have the right to have things our way. If one church fails to please us, we simply shop for another that will. Since there are only so many of us religious consumers to go around, churches have to compete with one another to acquire and keep as many consumers as possible. This, of course, puts pressure on pastors to sweeten the religious product they’re peddling by adding as many blessings as possible to their message and by refraining from saying or doing anything that might drive consumers away.2

It’s not just in the church but in our culture as well. Young adults don’t want to be “programmed for” but rather “participate in.” It’s not just about program for program’s sake, but relationships in groups that are doing the work of the church. People want to feel like they’re a part of something larger than just themselves.

As such, that is what we tried to do. We began each of our sections for conversation with two brief paper presentations, in order to frame our conversation. Each presenter was invited to leave the group with questions, and once the presentations were over, we moved into a world café style session to wrestle with the questions. World Café moves people from table to table – aiming to get you talking to the largest number of people in the room as possible. We also had sheets of paper down on the tables, with markers, to provide for continuing reflection and conversation in that form, too.

One of the things that really amazed me about this group, and all the gatherings of young adults I have been apart of, has been that desire to enter into relationship with one another. We aren’t just coming together to make procedural decisions, or plot out a plan, but rather to figure out how to be the church, in relationship with one another. Around those world café tables, people disagreed with one another – a lot. I think it is safe to say that at the end of our time together; people still disagreed with one another – a lot. But no one was going anywhere. We were committed to figuring out what the future of the Church of the Brethren was going to look like – together.

We encouraged current church leaders to share are some reflections on leadership with us. One of those reflections came from Deborah DeWinter, of the US Conference of the World Council of Churches. She shared some thoughts to help us frame our conversation, and she said,

To be a leader in the church is to recognize in the other the image of God and to call each other to accountability in this relationship we have as children of God. There is one family: God’s family. One family table: the Lord’s table. One calling (the family business): to love one another, as we have first been loved.  Everything else is commentary. It is to live a life of expectancy (expecting God to work for good in all things)….to call others to join together in experiencing the Advent spirit…eyes and ears, hearts, bodies and minds focused solely on the manger where the unlikely Messiah, the Prince of Peace, promises to turn the kingdoms of this world upside down….doing this, using our gifts; using us.  Imagine that!

I think that vision of leadership is what we were seeking to come to – one that seeks to transform the church into a vital community of believers.

1 Boyd, Gregory. “Created for Community: Out of My Cave”. The Christian Century. 19 May 2009. http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=6933.

2 http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=6933

  1. Gregory Boyd, “Created for Community: Out of My Cave” The Christian Century. 19 May 2009. http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=6933. []
  2. Ibid; http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=6933 []
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