May 2012

2×2 Reaches New High

During the month of May in 2011, 2×2 had 34 visitors to our three-month old web site. This May we surpassed all previous records with more than a 1000 visitors in May. The web site now has 86 subscribers/followers who receive posts by email. In addition, a growing average come to the site daily. That number is currently more than 40. Combining subscribers and daily visitors, 120 readers visit 2×2 each day or more than 800 every week. Except for the fact that we are excluded from Lutheran fellowship, Redeemer (2×2’s sponsor) is one of the largest Lutheran ministries in SEPA territory.

We’re just getting started!

Object Lesson: The Wind Blows Where It Will

Gospel for this Sunday (June 3, 2012). John 3:1-17

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Object: With children, precut a paper pinwheel and pin it to a straw. With adults, plug in an electric fan.

Talking points: Wind is a wonder. On a hot summer day, we turn our faces toward the wind for relief. Come winter, we shield our faces behind our mufflers. We know there is power in the wind and we try to harness it. We try to create comfort in our environment by adding air conditioning or directing fans. We build windmills on top of our hills to channel its power. Now and then, when storms blast and break the limbs of our trees or tear off the roofs of our firmly constructed homes, we are reminded that the wind is more powerful than we are.

Wind is a challenge to us. There is little we can do to control it — but still we try! “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus joined Jesus in the night on the roof garden, just trying to make sense of things. He was an old man, a respected authority on scripture. New ideas were turning his world upside down like a tornado. The rooftop garden was a good meeting place, away from public scrutiny. But in the hot Palestine night, it was probably a place where Jesus hoped Nicodemus would feel the gentle—or not-so-gentle—breeze of the Holy Spirit.

The Church and Conflicting Priorities

Pastoral Needs

Congregational Needs

Economic Security Acceptance
Manageable Environment (no conflict) Church Growth
Acceptance Work Satisfaction
Authority Authority
Job Satisfaction Manageable Environment
Church Growth Economic Security

In the church, we call it a “call.” It is really a sort of contract. Sometimes there is a bit of mystery to the process as a pastoral candidate describes the moment he or she decided to enter the ministry. That is rarely part of the laity’s call process, but a heart-to-heart with most hard-working lay members will reveal they, too, feel a sense of call that should not be taken lightly.

There is a difference in a clergy call and lay member’s call. It has to do with priorities or needs. The two are often in opposition.

This is not scientific, but here is a table that compares a professional church worker’s priority of needs and a lay member’s. The order will, no doubt, vary from circumstance to circumstance, but generally this chart represents the differing priorities.

The qualities are similar—almost the same—but the order of priority is often nearly reversed. Is it any surprise that conflict often results!

To make matters more difficult, in church work, it is often the case that neither side operates with  concern for the other.

Empathy is so easily replaced with criticism.

Leadership in the Modern, Changing Church

“I don’t understand why a person with a college-education has trouble finding work,” the older pastor commented after encountering a middle-aged parishioner, struggling with a mid-life job search.

The Church may be the last organization on earth to understand the changes facing the modern work force.

The Church, entrenched in the past, is dealing with the same problems with less success.

For countless decades or even centuries, mid-life was the pinnacle of a skilled worker’s career. Knowledge and experience positioned them as authorities. They commanded handsome wages. Life was good and the retirement years were looking sweet.

Today’s middle-aged, college-educated, skilled workers face a different world. Their skills are less valued. Newer skills of the connected age are not difficult to master, but they take time, effort and a continuing investment. Unlike youth, who can set aside the demands of independent living for four to eight years, the middle-aged workers are retooling while caring for teenagers, aging parents and still paying mortgages. Retirement is far less certain.

How does this affect the world of Church?

The Church still honors the system of hierarchy to some degree — even if they don’t call it “hierarchy.”

The people currently elected or appointed to leadership positions earned  their credentials the traditional way. Their positions are less market-driven. It has been enough in many cases to foster a reputation among a very narrow group of similarly trained and credentialed colleagues. They have been able to avoid the demands of the rest of the world — but not without consequence.

Change is every bit as imperative, but can be avoided until situations are dire with no damage to reputation. There are plenty of places to deflect blame for poor performance (economy, demographics, media, culture, lay people).

The great influx of second-career clergy may be adding candidates to the clergy roster who find the ever-changing demands of the secular world to be daunting. A major role of hierarchy is to keep the pool of available leaders active in ministry, regardless of their skills. Bottom line: the Church has incentive to stay the same to complement the skill sets of leadership–most of whom have very similar training and experience.

Sustaining clergy is a purpose of hierarchy, although it is rarely presented that way. Hierarchies want the available jobs to match the skills of available clergy. The Church is going to have to do a good bit of wiggling to loosen that stick from the mud!

This creates a division in expectations of laity and clergy. Laity, who must change or perish in their secular lives, grow impatient with clergy leaders, who roll out programs based on ministry models that used to work. The people at the top, most likely well into middle age, are disconnected from the lives of the laity. Empathy has not been the Church’s strong suit, especially since there is a LOT less money to work with.

Survival becomes the standard for success. Laity are not flocking to sacrifice for an organization in survival mode–especially one that threatens the local expression of faith with the strong arm of ecclesiastic power.

Survival standards are used to judge congregations. “We just don’t see how you can survive,” they are likely to say, even as they are dealing with the same or even more severe challenges.

There are ways to survive. There are ways to thrive. They are ways to reach out. But they will require new methods, new technology, new vision, a respect for younger blood and  lay talents and lifelong learning for Church leaders. Church leaders cannot ask congregations to make changes if they, themselves, are unable to change.

Laity are pretty busy making changes in their own lives.

Defining Change in the Church

Congregations are often criticized by others in the Church as being “unwilling to change.”

The need for change is universal. It applies to small congregations, medium congregations, large congregations, clergy and hierarchy. It applies to groups and individuals.

It is a criticism that is hard to refute. After all, it applies to EVERYONE. Change of some sort is always desirable, so it becomes a card to play to achieve ulterior motives.

The ability to embrace change is going to become the saving quality of every congregation–even those that seem to be ministering comfortably. Unrelenting change is going to be the norm.

When confronted with the need to change, congregations must take steps to make sure that their interests and ministries are respected.

Ask for change to be defined.

  • What are the desired goals? (It is easy to say you need more members and more income. It is always true.) Demand clear goals.
  • Ask what help is available? Change is not likely to happen without something added to the ministry mix.
  • Do the congregation and pastor need training? Is a necessary skill missing? If your neighborhood is changing, you may need help with culture and language differences. If you want to serve youth, you may need to find help with youth ministry skills.
  • Does the demand for change have a timetable that is realistic?
  • Is there a plan? Was the plan created by the congregation or mandated?
  • Is the congregation on board with the plan?

Creating an environment for change is a group effort. It will not happen by edict, nor will it happen in an atmosphere characterized by superiority expressed in criticism.

Change takes time, patience, tolerance and most of all love.


Water and Religion

The vista as we sit in our deck chairs overlooking Lake Erie even on this beautiful May day is a study in gray. The water and sky are almost the same color with the horizon line barely visible.

Behind us is a beautiful home with well-manicured, terraced gardens in full spring bloom. But still we sit looking at the gray horizon.

Water is a magnet drawing our attention. No wonder it is such an important part of the Christian message.

The Christian Message of Bait and Switch

The foundational message from God is simple. God loves us!

With this message, Christians are sent out into the world (2×2) to spread the Good News of God’s Love.

Congregations dedicated to outreach take this message seriously and revolve activity around it. All are welcome. Come as you are. Embrace God. Embrace us.

But from the moment the hook touches our eager lips, the message begins to change. You didn’t expect all this love to be free, did you?

More is expected of the new Christian. This is biblical to some degree. We love because God first loved us.

Some of it is pure greed. Newcomers to church will sense it. Some will dive in and become part of church culture. Some will lurk, testing the water no deeper than than their knees. Some will run to shore and keep running, the dollar sign on their foreheads no longer visible.

It is a balancing act for any congregation. What exactly is expected of lay church members? How do we grow involvement without crumbling the foundation of new faith?

It helps to understand lay thinking.

  • People join church because of family tradition.
  • People join church to feel part of community.
  • People join church to know God.
  • People join church to feel loved and to grow in their expression of love.
  • People join church to feel better about themselves and their personal failings.
  • No one joins a church to take on enormous existing debt.
  • No one joins a church looking to be subject to authority they barely know.

To welcome people openly with love, waiting to begin demands until they are settled in the pew, is a bait and switch. It is what keeps people away from worship and Christian community.

It is something for congregations to think about as they plan outreach, stewardship and new member programs. Are we ministering to them or hitching our lifeline to them?

We Have A Pope (Movie Review)

There is a delightful foreign film playing in artsy movie theaters. It was filmed in Italy and is subtitled. It is titled in English “We Have A Pope.”

It is not likely to draw huge audiences. That’s a shame. It is a great film.

The premise is simple but daring. A pope dies. The College of Cardinals meets to elect a successor. After many ballots, a dark horse emerges and receives a substantial majority. The black smoke wafting over the Vatican turns white. Throngs eagerly await the new pope’s first appearance on the balcony.

The new pope has second thoughts. He doesn’t want the job. He flees.

All of Catholic Christendom waits unaware of the drama behind the Vatican’s closed doors. Rumors fly.

The new pope explores his misgivings. He walks incognito through the streets of Rome for several days. The audience is slowly introduced to a man who appears to be a perfect candidate for pope. He seems so kind and understanding. He has his “pope” outbursts but he is generally humble, charmingly vulnerable, and in touch with humanity.

Meanwhile, back at the Vatican, an atheist psychiatrist is sequestered with the College of Cardinals, held captive by the rules of the Church until the new pope is introduced. He emerges as the leader of leaders.

The movie poses many questions about the Church and its unquestioning dependence on hierarchy and its definition of leadership.

The ending took the audience by surprise. Many were grumbling with dissatisfaction as they filed out of the theater.

It was the perfect ending.

It leaves us asking if the church, with all its rules, rituals and traditions can make mistakes. Can the College of Cardinals make a mistake? Can they elect the wrong person?

Can Synod Assemblies make mistakes?

Are the people we look to for leadership any more sure of themselves than the people they lead? Are the people who crave power the best candidates to hold positions of power?

Most important: What do we do when “the system” fails?

Watch this film because it’s funny, entertaining and great story-telling. It is filled with characters we have encountered in any church structure. Think about this film because, even as fiction, it airs weaknesses in the church that few people care to ponder.

What Social Media Can’t Do for the Church

Social Media makes introductions. It opens doors. It is a vital tool.

But the rest of Church Work is as old as the Palestinian hills.

The people of the Church must worship. We must be aware of our surroundings—our fellow worshipers and the community we will step into when worship ends. We must teach the Gospel. We must help the sick and frail. We must care about the troubled. We must be a voice for the disenfranchised. We must respond to crises. We must do this individually. We must motivate groups.

There is no substitute in Social Media for reaching out with an open hand. The sense of touch may still be the most valuable tool of Christianity. That’s where Social Media ministries must kick the keyboard aside and go to work.

photo credit: Josep Ma. Rosell via photo pin cc

The Quickest Way to Church Transformation

Marketing Guru Seth Godin’s blog post this morning is short but speaks volumes to a topic near and dear to the hearts of Church leaders — transformation. What’s the quickest way to achieve transformational goals?

  1. Don’t demand authority.
  2. Eagerly take responsibility.
  3. Relentlessly give credit.

The blog post has only one more sentence, a caveat warning that it is not the easiest way but the quickest.

Contrast this to the way Church leadership often approaches “transformation.”

  1. They demand authority (constitutionally or not).
  2. They relentlessly find fault within congregations and assign blame to volunteer laborers.
  3. They grab credit for any success.

No wonder Church “transformation” so often ends with results that are counterproductive to the mandates of Christianity.

Seth says so much in just a few words. So we won’t add any more.