This photo, circulated widely on the internet, speaks volumes to church life.
Of course, the eye is drawn to the up-ended bird. Is he troubled? Is she just different? Only a few other birds notice, and they look unsure there is anything they can do about what they see.
Then there are the other birds. Most are staring confidently in the same direction. We have no way of knowing what they see. What is so interesting that catches their attention but keeps them roosting? A few are preoccupied, preening themselves.
The religious response to the violence in Ferguson and its aftermath has prompted response from church leaders. In some cases it has met with resistance, which caught some church leaders off guard.
Church leaders hang signs. Black Lives Matter. In this day and age, who could disagree?
But in some cases, the signs sparked outrage. This surprised church leaders. Their seat on the ecclesial bandwagon seemed safe.
There are three problems with the Church leading dialog on race relations.
1. It is too little, too late.
2. They rarely recognize that the Church has been part of the problem.
3. The people eager to lead the discussion, have little experience dealing with the problems.
Discussion that might have prevented Ferguson didn’t happen.
Racial issues moderated by clergy who preach from pulpits in the affluent suburbs are suspect.
How do we get past this? Let’s hang that “Black Lives Matter” sign in front of a few different churches and imagine how the passersby in each case feel when they read it.
Let’s hang the sign in front of a church in a still segregated black neighborhood, one of thousands across the country similar to Ferguson. We’ll call this church NEW CANAAN GOSPEL FELLOWSHIP.
Then we’ll hang the sign in front of an 1000-member mainline church in an affluent suburb a good 15 miles away from NEW CANAAN. The members of these congregations are likely to make their livings in the urban centers, but the highways and trains they travel between work and home allow them to never set foot in the neighborhoods in between. We’ll call this church FIRST SUBURBAN.
Finally, we’ll hang the sign in the urban neighborhoods that were once segregated, but white. They have spent the last few decades dealing with the transitions. Let’s name this church CRUSADER.
NEW CANAAN GOSPEL FELLOWSHIP
The reaction to the sign hanging in front of NEW CANAAN GOSPEL FELLOWSHIP isn’t difficult to imagine. We saw it on the news for weeks following Ferguson— the demonstrations, the anger, the shouts, the rally signs, and more violence. They are tired of going unnoticed — or noticed but ignored. They are weary of the only educational option being substandard schools. They detest having to send their teenagers out the door to face finding adequate employment with poor education. They know full well that they will face temptations of drugs, crime and gangs. They need an army to help but they are often just a single mom or grandmother. In short, they are enraged at being written off.
It is one thing to feel expendable and another to know that you are passing that legacy on to your children and grandchildren. They look at the sign in front of the neighborhood church, shake a fist in the air, and shout an impassioned “Damn Straight. High Time.”
On to FIRST SUBURBAN. There the pastor hangs the sign to show that the people care about the current events. They don’t want to turn away from the crisis. But they may not recognize that their church probably credits its growth and prosperity to the history that created Ferguson. Many of today’s large suburban churches were small village churches prior to the White Flight sparked in the 1960s Civil Rights Era. Their strength came from large numbers of people escaping the societal change in the city. Job opportunities and educational opportunities are myriad because of proximity to the best the city has to offer. They are assured access to the best health care urban centers can provide. Suburbs are desirable because of their proximity to cities!
They have the 3 Esses—SPACE. SCHOOLS. SECURITY. Urban problems? No, thank you.
The ties to the city remained for a couple of generations. Grandma and Grandpa still lived in the city. They drove out to attend family baptisms, weddings and funerals. But those ties are now nearly gone. The problems they left behind are history.
The people reading the sign in suburban neighborhoods feel like the world they thought they had escaped is creeping up on them. Most were born post 1980 and don’t remember White Flight. To them, the sign challenges law enforcement, property values, way of life, quality schools—the very issues that created life as they know it. They remember the stories of why mom and dad left the city. For all they know, nothing has changed. They are likely to be thinking, “Of course, black lives matter. So do ours. So do the lives of our police. So do the lives of our storekeepers. So do our schools. Don’t hang this sign in our community. Don’t bring city problems to our doorsteps!”
Finally, let’s walk by the sign hanging in front of CRUSADER church. CRUSADER was once a “white” congregation because it was in a “white” urban neighborhood. As the urban scene changed, they continued their ministry but were largely neglected by the mainline church which was amassing strength in the suburbs. CRUSADER has few leadership choices. They make do with part-timers—usually retired pastors with no interest and little energy for evangelism. Guiding social change? Not likely.
Mainline denominations with prime leadership well-positioned in the suburbs talk patronizingly to CRUSADER members about inclusion and diversity while providing little support. Truth be told, they have little experience leading the kind of change CRUSADER already experienced. The people forged the way.
Nothing happened overnight. Denominations watched as government housing projects surrounded urban neighborhoods. CRUSADER lived through decades of crime that resulted from isolating new populations near but culturally separate from the neighborhoods surrounding them. Now that things are better, denominations claim expertise in issues CRUSADER faced alone for 50 years.
They still have no plans for helping neighborhood churches. CRUSADER cannot rely on its denominational leaders to provide leadership now when they have been largely absent for 50 years.
Denominations test the waters to “prayerfully discern” the right time for closure. Meanwhile, they slowly rewrite governing rules to make sure he assets of neighborhood churches go to them.
The people walking past the “Black Lives Matter” sign in these neighborhoods think, “NOW you want to talk. Where were you in the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the last 15 years?”
2×2 is a church like CRUSADER.
Like so many other CRUSADER churches, we experienced neighborhood changes and kept up with them quietly. We watched as our children married and looked for homes in the suburbs. We drove to FIRST SUBURBAN to attend the baptisms of our grandchildren. Back home we tended to the children who came on Sunday morning from the government housing projects—never with parents. We worked with the public school across the street even as our families found it an unsafe environment for their own children. We dealt with a diminishing offering base as members aged and newer members had less means and greater needs. We worked with minimal pastoral leadership. Lay leaders who picked up the slack were criticized as being intimidating to pastors who wanted authority while committing to little more than worship leadership.
Our congregation challenged suburban-focused church leaders in the 1980s who claimed a major bequest left to our church. We challenged a bishop in the 1990s who placed us under Synodical Administration temporarily so he could access this same bequest. And in 2008, we challenged yet another bishop who decided to exert power once and for all. She not only claimed our land and every penny of our congregation’s bank accounts but she went after church members’ private funds to cover legal costs for both sides.
We continue to work in our neighborhood, networking with organizations of diverse backgrounds, only to face ongoing defamation from church leaders—who safely hang signs in the suburbs, reflecting how much they care about racism.
Racism went unrecognized when church leaders came to our majority black membership and encouraged them to take their memberships elsewhere to make the acquisition of our land easier. No one noticed racism when we were denied voice so that we could point out that parish reports used to justify a second imposition of synodical administration had been altered to reflect only our white membership—in effect removing 69 black members from our congregational roster without their knowledge.
All the while, church leaders keep the race card up their sleeve, ready to play whenever it works to their advantage, knowing that dialog that might expose racism will never happen.
Now, after Ferguson, church leaders want to talk. Are they ready to listen?
Unfortunately for the Church, the protocols of Church culture were created in ancient times. Two millenniums later, we steadfastly follow the example of St. Paul.
What would the last 2000 years of Christianity have been like if the early apostles could have left behind a second tunic but carried with them a laptop!
If churches are to exist as change agents—in society and in people’s lives, blogging cannot be overlooked. In fact, every congregation should require these skills of any new pastor. Any settled pastor should be encouraged to adopt blogging. Here’s why:
Blogs provide an opportunity to spread the word beyond current membership.
Pastors/preachers for the most part still concentrate all efforts on reaching people with 20-minute sermons delivered weekly on Sunday morning. Consequently, the audience is very limited—and dwindling. A pastor ends up reaching the same 25, 50, 100 or 250 people each week. It doesn’t matter the size of the church. The audience is severely limited!
Blogs create an opportunity to teach.
Pastors are the resident experts on faith and theology. Creating a regular conversation on faith topics will strengthen the faith foundation of the congregation.
Blogs are an opportunity to lead.
The role of pastor is often confusing. Are pastors shepherds, servant leaders, or CEOs? The nature of leadership may be cloudy, but there is no doubt leadership skills are important to success.
Leaders benefit from the ability to quickly convey ideas and vision. Changing insights introduced from the pulpit are likely to incite those who may disagree. Since pulpit to congregation communication is one-way, this has the potential to create contention and bad feelings—alienating loyal members. Blogs allow for feedback on the reader’s terms. New ideas are less threatening when others can be part of dialogue.
Board and committee meetings provide opportunity for dialogue but the sharing is among the select—those in attendance. And here’s a problem—you have no ability to control the message once the group disperses and starts to talk to others. Better do a crackerjack job from the start.
Blogging is foundational to building community.
While sharing your views several times a week, you will build relationships. That’s just the beginning. Publish meaningful insights and your following will start to share. Evangelism!
Blogging makes a congregation’s website worth the work.
Most congregations still use the website simply to advertise the who, what, where, and when of church life—digital brochures. They are not likely to be read by many. Members won’t check in if nothing changes. Visitors will find you only if they are scouting before a visit. There is so much more potential! Regular, fresh content is a good start.
Blogging is a worthwhile investment in time.
Of course, blogging seems like more work. It is! But the return on the investment for messages shared, relationships built, networks strengthened, and impact made is worth the investment. The only thing stopping congregations from requiring these skills of pastors is they are still new within the church. (The rest of the world has jumped on the opportunity.) Like any new habit, the sooner you work at cultivating it the sooner the advantages kick in.
It will give your congregation’s ministry direction.
This is the least understood aspect of blogging. Blogging is not just an “add-on” to a congregation’s existing ministry. It is a game-changer. Start blogging. Soon, the discipline of writing regularly, looking for ideas, and getting feedback, will combine to re-focus mission—often in unforeseen ways. The result: a new, timely vision. Exciting, too!
No other organization depends as much on volunteers as the church.
We’ll pay for a preacher, an organist, and a sexton. If there are resources, we’ll shell out for an additional pastor, a secretary, an education director and a choir director. Beyond that members are expected to volunteer — and pay for the privilege.
Back in the days of small-town America, we were the only act in town. We began to take members for granted.
Today, for every church there are dozens of non-profits vying for the attention of your members—and their donations. Many of them are church agencies and institutions—already funded by church offerings! Churches are competing with organizations that take volunteers so seriously they create offices to nurture the giving of time and money. Congregations need to foster membership just to keep up.
Businesses are well aware of that it costs more to find new customers than it does to keep old customers. They regularly address and measure CUSTOMER RETENTION.
Similarly, churches need to address MEMBER RETENTION. Too often, churches act like if when people leave, it’s their problem. We are wrong. Remember that Bible story—the one about the lost sheep? Today’s churches willingly watch dozens leave without doing a thing to stop them.
VOLUNTEER. Doesn’t that describe the church population facing the altar?
Start using data.Church life flows like a lazy river. People come and go. No one pays close attention. Start keeping track. Are your most loyal members drifting? Find out why!
There is a tendency in church life to let the disgruntled leave. We concentrate on keeping key people happy. Talk to those who feel disconnected before they leave entirely. Churches cannot fix problems they do not acknowledge. If the people who have been most loyal are upset, it is likely to affect your ability to reach others in your community.
Illustrate their impact. Charities are pretty good at telling the story of how monetary donations aid mission. Churches need to remember that every volunteer hour donated by members is worth more than $20. Regularly tell the story of your volunteers. Let them know they are making a difference.
Show them you appreciate them. Have a plan for engaging volunteers. Create a follow-up process that thanks and encourages them to volunteer again. Thank you cards, an annual banquet, and special events should become part of church life.
2×2 is getting ready to add new resources for the new fall and new Church Year.
In preparation, I took the time to organize the resources added for the last four years. It was as daunting as cleaning the attic!
The work was long overdue and will make adding resources all the easier.
I started with our library of SlideShows and organized them on one catalog page. Here’s the link. Creating this catalog took the best part of two days. That included testing formats, collecting links, capturing images and sizing them uniformly.
Some interesting statistics surfaced.
2×2’s SlideShare site (now owned by LinkedIn) ranks in the top 5% of all SlideShare sites in the Spiritual Category.
Each of the 20 SlideShows listed has been downloaded at least 250 times from SlideShare, some more than 1000.
Typically the number of downloads directly from our website outnumbers SlideShare downloads three to one.
So the total downloads for each are somewhere between 750 and 3200.
The use of projected imagery in worship is becoming more popular. Small churches can join the trend. These resources are designed to make this easy and to provide flexibility. The slides can also be used in bulletins, newsletters, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Join the 2×2 SlideShow Club to receive timely notice when new resources are added. We’ll be posting resources for All Saints Day, Thanksgiving, and Advent starting later in October.
The need for change has been preached to church members of most Protestant denominations for the last few decades. It didn’t fall on empty ears. Church followers really worked at change. Really!
Change, despite great effort, has been an uphill struggle. We are Sisyphus incarnate.
Leaders have a tendency to crave change from others—while their worlds stay the same.
The local parish might institute change but it could rarely sustain change from one pastorate to another. One step forward. Two steps back.
Change led by laity is suspect. Change led by clergy rarely outlasts the tenure of individual innovators. No surprise — the Church has few successful change agents. Change agents are rarely elected!
Finally, there is a sense that progress might be possible. The leader of the denomination that historically ignored all other denominations, titling itself “the one true Church,” is showing us all the ropes of change.
We, the children of the Reformation, can look on with awe and maybe a little embarrassment. We were once so good at this — centuries ago to be sure — but still, this is the Church. Centuries count!
Change cannot happen throughout an organization without the top buying in — wholeheartedly — not ceremoniously.
Pope Francis takes the Gospel seriously. He is not proof-texting long-standing doctrine. He is a fundamentalist. Love one another means love one another. The whole Church can throw its shoulders back and breathe in the fresh air. The Gospel really is for us, the living.
Pope Francis started his reform personally. “Pray for me.”
He leads by example. He could have rested on generous laurels, but from the opening hours of being pope, he showed the way—almost as if he had been waiting for the day. He walked to his pre-pope hotel and paid his bill. It will be hard for any future pope to do anything but the same!
He then took a good look at church leadership. During his first year, he called out the leaders who were taking advantage of their positions to create comfortable lives for themselves. He sent those in charge of church finances back to school. He surely was influential in releasing the American sisters from a punitive five-year oversight—imposed because they dared to address needs others couldn’t see. He makes no excuses for clergy that have abused power.
Pope Francis is leading change. He is not collecting hefty consulting fees. He is doing what needed to be done long ago.
Protestant leaders are proud of their ancient roots as reformers—as if the sacrifices of leaders in the 15th and 16th centuries forever exempted them from exercising the courage of reform. That was then. This is now.
Protestant leaders, are you watching the New Reformation? Can we create our own?
01 Oct 2015
FREE Modern Parable with Study Guide
Undercover Bishop: A Parable for Today’s Church
Join Bishop Ruby Kinisa as she visits small churches "under cover" to learn what people would never share if they knew they were talking to their bishop.
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We were all once strangers, the weakest, the outcasts, until someone came to our defense, included us, empowered us, reconciled us (1 Cor. 2; Eph. 2).
Be calm. Wait. Wait. Commit your cause to God. He will make it succeed. Look for Him a little at a time. Wait. Wait. But since this waiting seems long to the flesh and appears like death, the flesh always wavers. But keep faith. Patience will overcome wickedness.