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December 2015

How Can the Church Approach
Meaningful Structural Change?

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The future of the Church does not have to be bricking up the neighborhood churches.

HOLACRACY: Part 2

Yesterday’s post introduced holacracy—a movement that is restructuring how organizations work together.

 

I suggested that the concepts may be exactly what the world of Church is struggling to find.

 

But how do we get there?

 

Holacracy is finding success in the business world because a few savvy entrepreneurs were willing to step away from titles like CEO and the accompanying vertical structure. They saw it hampering innovation. Fostering innovation makes you stand out among competitors.

 

In other words—there is incentive.

 

The Church talks about innovation but remains unprepared to invest in the concept. No incentive.

 

Tradition and constitutions define rules. (Holacracy has a constitution, by the way.) Leadership roles of bishop and pastor are guaranteed as long as congregational money lasts and people get along. Successful leaders keep people happy.

 

In recent years, the money is failing. When money is in short supply, tensions rise. People are not happy.

 

As congregations fail, church leaders have rewritten the rules to make sure money lasts longer for their benefit.

 

It is OK for congregations to fail, if the denomination benefits from failure. This isn’t made up. It is actually stated in training resources for church leaders. Don’t waste time helping struggling churches. Create a triage list. Spend time and energy on those showing more promise.

 

Self-survival is the only incentive. It is not survival of the fittest. The higher ranks of the Church are every bit as challenged as the congregations. Rather, it is survival of the most powerful. Service and Mission are off in the distance.

 

The Church of the near future is likely to be composed of denominational offices and the 40 richest congregations—a quarter the current size of our regional body. The roster of pastors will be similarly cut, although those remaining will be well paid. Affluence is the measure of ministry. All the buildings will be new or renovated.

 

One problem, pews are not likely to be full. The people of the 120 abandoned congregations spread across five counties will not drive to attend worship no matter how grand the parking lots or plush the pews.

 

The loss of neighborhood churches will challenge the ability of the surviving churches to effectively deliver in mission. They will have isolated themselves from the poor, needy and diverse. They will become social clubs for Christians who can afford the dues.

 

Failure to recognize the destructive nature of self-centered use of power sparked the Reformation. A refresher course every 500 years may be the ticket!

 

Just as in 1517, power feeds on money. The powerful will not easily revise their roles if it means ceding power and status.

 

This is likely to be the Church’s undoing.

 

Change is not going to come from clergy, seminarians or consultants. They remain heavily invested in vertical church structure.

 

I suggest we start by looking at what we already have. Examine that word in the ELCA constitutions that eludes us.

 

INTERDEPENDENT

What does it mean?

 

 

 

With that question in mind, take a look at this TED talk.

photo credit: Brick Filled Window via photopin (license)

How Lutherans Blew It
and How We Might Recover

The Reformation paved the road for modern thinking. People who know little about Martin Luther or Christianity benefit from ideas that gained a foothold during the reforming upheaval of the sixteenth century.

Luther lived in an age where the Church was one of few influential institutions. His ideas, planted for the sake of religion, crept into government.

  • Luther insisted the message of the Church is for all people. Today, we recognize that education is for everyone.
  • Luther taught the skills of all contribute equally to a successful society. Priests, nuns and monks do not outrank the people they serve. Neither do royalty, presidents and prime ministers. People should have a say in choosing leaders. Leaders are accountable to the people.
  • Luther used the language of the people, which demystified religion. This translates to today's emphasis on transparency in leadership.
  • Luther taught that work, work, work alone will not protect us. The character of the individual plays a big role. From this concept came the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Luther looked to scripture as the only authority. The ability to challenge ruling authority contributed to the modern legal system.​

During the last 30 or 50 years—Lutherans compromised our founding beliefs in order to gain status among other denominations.

This is sad. We had a lot going for us.​

HOLACRACY

A new idea with Lutheran roots.​

  • We preach the priesthood of all believers. A definite plus!
  • We put land and asset management in the hands of the individual churches. This supported the belief in priesthood of all believers. Congregations could leverage their assets to shape unique ministries without outside approval.
  • We limited the authority of pastors and regional and national leaders. We didn’t even use the word “bishop” until the late 1980s. At the time, cautious Lutherans were assured it wouldn't change our view of leadership. It would only give our leaders greater standing in ecumenical dialog. 

Wrong on both counts!​

The seed of the idea is there in the constitutionally stated interdependence of church wide, regional, and local congregations. But we failed to define what this means and the noble concept has never been put into action.

But today, something is happening. The ideas that shaped the Reformation, the ideas that we abandoned for momentary convenience, are taking hold in our culture.

I just felt a shiver of hope.

The Rise of Holacracy

I've called what must happen for the Church to be influential in the modern world The Horizontal Church. I like that term. I've written several posts spanning a few years on the concept. The word "horizontal" juxtaposed with the concept of “vertical” church hierarchy speaks volumes with little explanation needed.

But I'll abandon that term—at least for the moment. ​

The business world uses the term “holacracy.”​

The ideas of holacracy can be found in the teachings of Martin Luther. They are just a bit more codified.

Ironically, holacracy started nearby. While we were sitting in courtrooms across Philadelphia from 2007-2014, Brian Robertson of Ternary Software Company in Exton, Pennsylvania, restructured his company along more democratic ideas in 2007 and drafted the Holacracy Constitution in 2010. 

His ideas for reorganizing business have spread to at least seven continents and are now becoming a consulting niche for those fortunate enough to have been involved in the early implementation.​

What Can the Church Learn from Holacracy?

Holacracy in a nutshell.

  1. Increased transparency
  2. Distributed authority
  3. The ability to allow organizations to evolve from its original vision.

Robertson explains, “Holacracy is not a governance process ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’—it’s governance of the organization, through the people, for the purpose.”

A key question is “How are we working together?” The answers allow for creative tension and disruptive innovation.

The theories and practices revolve around the concept of purpose driving decisions. In a sense the modern trend in the Church toward developing mission statements fits right in—if we don't view our mission statements as etched in stone. That's always a temptation.

It is easily argued that the Church has a pre-ordained stated purpose—to make Christ known. But the details of that directive hold infinite possibilities.

We have become dependent on a structure that is now crippling congregations. It is expensive and turning the Church into a place for only the rich. It is inflexible. We are dependent on clergy—and clergy can do only so much. When clergy fail, we turn to consultants—free-agent clergy. Only the richest churches can afford consultants so the solutions they offer have limited practicality or effect.

In coming posts, I'm going to explore the concepts of holacracy and how adopting its principles (Lutheran as they are) might give all churches a new sense of mission.​

Making this change in thinking is not going to be easy. It may be impossible to overcome 2000 years of vertical thinking. But the current course of even the most successful churches is doomed to failure if we don't try.

As these ideas continue to take hold, the people we hope to reach will expect us to behave with these very Christian ideals.​ They will have learned them at work.

Christian Influencers: Do Women Count?

I just finished a novel—a murder mystery. (Fisher of Souls by Hanni Münzer). Solving the murders of a growing number of high-ranking church leaders traces the motive to the proposed revelation of ancient documents sealed by the church leaders that indicate Jesus had appointed leadership roles to women. This information is seen as threatening to all church structure. Hence, 300 pages of intrigue.

 

The stuff of novels?

 

photo credit: Geordie via photopin (license)

photo credit: Geordie via photopin (license)

The other day I was doing some research and googled “top church influencers.” Up popped a post on a blog, Brian Dodd on Leadership. It is a list of the top 30 blogs Christian leaders should have been reading in 2015. I recognized a couple of names that I’ve followed online and I had heard of a few more, but most were unknown to me.

 

But something was really jumping out.

 

Where were the names of any women? Women are the engines of most churches.

 

Of 30 influential blogs listed only three are written by women.  The only place women are listed as influencers are in the category “Women.” There is no “Men” category.

 

Women exist as influencers only as they relate to women. One writes about gender abuse. A bunch write for a blog written for women leaders and preachers wives. A third is an author and speaker who has written for the female perspective (a NY Bestselling author—must be a market for it!). By women, for women. An interesting segregation.

 

At least the men aren’t claiming to be experts on women! Where would that get them?

 

The remaining blogs on the list reveal that the world of church leadership (whether Protestant or Catholic) is still a male domain.

 

Most of the blogs take the corporate view of church, referencing the large church model that sports such oxymoronic terms as “executive pastor.”

 

Where are the women leaders? Probably serving the smaller congregations—most congregations.

 

I can still feel the bitterness of my grandmother and mother at their roles as preachers’ wives, which bridled their considerable talents. I often thought they might have been happier if they had been born today, but the dream of equality in the church is still a dream deferred. We’ve got some work to do if we believe in the priesthood of all believers.

Can Christians Work Together?

One of the influences being felt in world resulting from the worldwide impact of the internet is the value of collaboration.

Any natural tendency of people to want to work together was tabled by the rise of industrialism and the capitalistic spirit. The first entrepreneurs to wrest wealth and power from royalty reveled in their accomplishments—often blind to the contributions of the thousands who made their success possible.  

Collaboration

fosters innovation​

Entitlement was to become a character trait of the common person. We remember the land barons and the great inventors. We forget the slaves, lab assistants and assembly line workers who made their ideas profitable. In the Church these unsung workforce was the legions of stay-at-home moms and grandmoms that provided the labor to run schools, programs, choirs, and mission efforts.

The quest of this era was to attain personal wealth, power and status. Collaboration was risky. Someone might get the best of us or steal our ideas—or our free labor workforce.

The result: We all wore vests and held our cards close.

The world is still a bit like this. But a lot of smart people are starting to see that collaboration allows the doors of success to open for more people.

Working together makes more things possible and makes everyone look good!​

Church structure facilitates collaboration on big projects only—things like publishing and large-scale charitable work.

Cookie cutter ministries result—the same model of worship and mission replicated over and over.​

Educators have learned that people learn more effectively when they collaborate.

Our congregation was just as guilty. Our few attempts to collaborate were failures.

Collaboration requires communication. This is not a strength of most churches—on any level.

Our congregation encouraged the creation of a neighborhood consortium of churches in East Falls. We left the leadership to pastors. For decades, the consortium resulted in little except round-robin midweek Lenten services—something that lessened the pastors workload.

The tendency of all congregations is to look first at their own survival needs. Collaboration might cost both members and offerings. It meant working at communication.  

I can recall very few efforts at inter-church collaboration in my life as a church volunteer.

Occasional attempts to share space always ended in strife. One group sharing our church went behind our back to our denomination and suggested they have first dibs on our property (which wasn't for sale). Their offer? One dollar.

Our attempt to merge with another congregation was foiled by our regional body who wanted to make sure that in the event of failure, remaining assets of both congregations went their way.  

When I was a teen, three Lutheran churches in our township tried to join youth groups. It seemed to be working well until one church announced it was taking its ball and going home. One defection killed the whole idea.

On the other hand—

Back in the 1970s, all the churches in our rural township (Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Brethren, and Mennonite) pooled resources to produce an original passion play that attracted busloads of people. Those who took part look back at the several years working on this community project as a highlight of their faith journey.

Collaboration is possible!​

Collaboration

fosters innovation​

The internet opens doors for churches willing to risk collaboration.

The business world has noticed. Today's entrepreneurs look for reciprocal partners or influencers to cooperate in marketing ideas and products. Today's job descriptions emphasize the need to work in teams.

It may be time for the Church to take notice, too. But how?

There are roadblocks

1. Collaborating with other congregations is not in any job description. Who will initiate?

2. Denominations tend to be self-focused. They are not likely to reward congregations for working outside their box. Where's the incentive?

3. The economics need to be worked out. How will projects be funded? How will any benefits be allocated?

4. Authority disputes might result. Who will be in charge?

5. Collaboration calls for a sense of equality. Will smaller churches be the laborers while larger churches get the press and credit?

6. How will collaborative projects be chosen?

The answers aren’t easy. The failure to find answers means congregations will continue ministry in relative isolation, working in ways young people never learned, and reaching a limited audience with minimal success.

What might be possible if we cracked this nut?

Do you have any answers on how to overcome?

What gets into people at Christmas?

Have you seen the man on the left?

Surveillance cameras caught this man stealing a wreath from a home doorway in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia.

News stations were called. Reporters were dispatched to the scene. Interviews with neighbors revealed community outrage.

Help us find this thief, is the plea.

Who would do such a thing? is the question.

Maybe he learned his behavior in church.

Our denomination “legally stole” our property in 2009. The court ruling stated that if the law were applied our congregation was within our rights to resist. But the courts have no jurisdiction in church disputes. It isn't that taking congregational property without the congregation's consent is right. It is just that no one can stop them.

Church people must rely on their own sense of outrage. But a sense of right and wrong can so easily remain uncultivated in the Church. There are no journalists to call. Church life remains unexamined. Many remain unaware of what church leaders do in their name, wanting to believe in inerrant leadership with the same trust that children believe in Santa.

The taking of our building was followed in 2015 with the taking of church furnishings. On Maundy Thursday, the day church leaders publicly display humility by washing the feet of ordinary Christians, a van pulled up to the door of Redeemer. The building has been locked to the community since September 27, 2009. The property reportedly was sold in July of 2014. They were returning for some things they left behind—the chancel furnishing. 

Somewhere in Lutheranland, Christians may already be worshiping at a “legally stolen” altar, preaching from a “legally stolen” pulpit, reading the Bible from a “legally stolen” lectern.

Also taken was our congregation's carved, large scale, creche figures.

Who would do such a thing, indeed! 

With all this taking, taking, taking, there remains no voice within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that is independent enough to say, “Wait a minute. What are we doing? What are we hoping to accomplish—and at what cost?”

It’s a pity that Christmas is so often lost on Christians.

Now is the time for Christians to speak

Early in the current campaign for the 2016 presidential elections, I wrote a blog post about the wide field of Republican candidates and their religious affiliations. 

 

Back then, the candidates were eager to be seen as part of some faith group, but they were careful to define their affiliations to pass the political correctness test.

 

The test was given again this week. The grade for the Republican frontrunner is an embarrassing F–.

 

The field is now narrowing—current events are giving us a view of the forerunners’ faith. Character is emerging. Perhaps it is a God-send these issues are arising now, before the campaign narrows our choices any further. Perhaps it will help us avoid a serious national mistake.

 

 

Which is more troubling?

 

  • The leading candidate, Donald Trump, is sending us back to World War II and the McCarthy Era. His views and proposed remedies of the current crisis with militant Islamic extremists violate our nation’s founding principles. It should be obvious to any eighth-grade civic student.
  • The remaining serious contenders seem to be scared to speak strongly against the forerunner. Some have already pledged to support the person who won the nomination.

 

If ever there was a reason to break a promise, this is it. We need the other contenders to speak up and withdraw their pledged support. Just be honest: you thought you could support his candidacy but this is a development you cannot accept. That would be leadership.

 

There are more important principles at stake than protecting chances for the VP slot or protecting party loyalty. There usually are, by the way.

 

It has been proven time and again—Leaders who lead by excluding self-defined opponents are dangerous (in world politics and within the Church).

 

A few months ago, the candidates were trying to qualify for the nation’s faith vote.

 

Now they are missing the main point of most faith groups and the very definition of the God worshiped by Christians.

 

Back then, Trump defined himself as a Presbyterian who attends church as much as he can. “Always on Christmas and Easter.”

 

 

Well, Donald. In two weeks or so, when you find yourself in church on Christmas, I hope you hear the message.

 

God is love. Change the accent. God IS love.

 

Love is inclusive, not exclusive. Any Sunday School Kindergarten student can tell you that.

How Can Encouragement
Help Small Congregations?

When I was a schoolgirl we sat in classrooms that looked something like this.

Girls wore dresses. Boys wore dress pants—no jeans. The rivets scratched the furniture.

Our teacher instructed us that while waiting in line we should make an egg with one hand and place it in the nest made by the other hand.

We were good kids. We followed the rules. We raised our hands to speak. We spoke one at a time. We used inside voices.

Most important: we did our own work. We kept our eyes on our own papers.

To do otherwise was cheating.

But that was in school.

There was no authority while we walked to the bus stop. No one to monitor our activity while we waited for the bus, only a bus driver in charge during the 20-minute bus ride.

Instinctively, we kept what we did during this unsupervised time secret. We sensed that what we were doing was horribly wrong, possibly immoral. Given the structure of the time we spent between bus rides, we suspected that we were engaged in sinister activity. We never discussed it, even among ourselves. Getting caught might ruin our chances at a quality future. 

What were we up to?​

We checked each other’s homework.

We traded papers and reviewed the answers and told our classmates where we thought they might be wrong. We didn’t erase our work and scribble in another student's answers. We just said, “I got a different answer to question Number 10.” We’d review the problem together to see which of us was right.

We did very well in school. We were the cream of the crop. The accelerated students.

Had we cheated our way to the top?

My son’s school experience was very different. More like this:

He never sat in a classroom with rows of desks facing a teacher. In grade school, most instructional time was spent sitting on the floor with all the children surrounding their teacher. He and his classmates shouted out answers with enthusiasm. They laughed freely along with the teacher at the remarks of the class clown. Our class clown spent his childhood in the principal’s office! For hands-on work, they sat at tables with three or four other classmates.

I was jealous. He had approval to do what we did in fear and secrecy.

I can stop feeling guilty now. Turns out we weren’t cheating; we were ahead of our time!

Now educators recognize the way we were taught was already a relic of an industrial past, where conformity was hyper-valued.

Today we are learning the potential of collaborative learning.

Here is a 2013 TED talk worth viewing.

Watch it and then ask yourself, What does this mean to the Church?

TED Talk: Sugata Mitra
Talks about the School in the Cloud

If you don’t have 20 minutes to watch, here are the basics.

This educator fashioned an experiment. He placed a computer in a wall surrounding an Indian slum. He walked away, returning every two months to see what happened.

Slum children found the computer and started punching buttons—a powerful modern skill. We would have been told to keep our fingers to ourselves and seek permission to touch something that wasn’t ours.

Slum children left alone with a single computer, taught themselves English and DNA science.

Within months they had achieved academic proficiency without supervision—while teaching themselves a foreign alphabet and language.

KEY INGREDIENT:

ENCOURAGEMENT

The results are amazing. First, the children had to learn to use the controls. In eight minutes, they mastered browsing. More than that, they had taught several other children what they had learned.

They had to learn English to do more. In two months they had a working vocabulary of 200 words.

He found that the younger children often led the way.​

In four months, they had achieved 30% proficiency on the topic presented—DNA science.

They seemed to be stuck there. Then Mitra added what he called "the granny effect." He enlisted someone to encourage the children, to simply ooh and ahh at their achievements. Within two months the slum children reached 50% proficiency in their understanding of DNA science.

What does this have to do with church?

Church is still operating in the industrial age. We still expect people to sit attentively in the pew and to seek approval for any initiative.

What might we be missing?

Mitra studied the challenges of education in remote areas. He identified key problems. He had proven the ability of the children to learn so he avoided the temptation to list what was wrong with the students. He found instead:

  • They do not have good enough teachers.
  • They have poor retention of teachers.
  • They have poor infrastructure.
  • They have poor maintenance or oversight of the infrastructure.

Change teachers to preachers and infrastructure to hierarchy, and you describe the modern neighborhood (remote) congregation.

Mitra discovered favoring richer schools with early innovation actually held back educational advancement. Technology was first introduced in richer schools where grades were already high. Administrators saw no marked improvement and resisted the added investment.

What effect do disgruntled pastors have on the congregations they serve?

Mitra also discovered in his studies that teachers in remote schools were unhappy and wished they had positions in larger, city schools.

Their unhappiness, he concludes, surely affects the quality of education.

We tend to fast-track our most promising pastors to richer congregations, regional leadership, or the seminary classroom. They can serve their entire careers without ever visiting small congregations. Meanwhile, smaller, remote congregations are lucky to get part-time retired pastors. 

What would happen if we found a way to put the mover/shaker pastors where moving and shaking might do the most good? 

The attention of denominational leaders is with the top 20% of congregations where offerings support multiple pastors and where innovation is not a priority because it is not needed—at least at the moment.

Mitra discovered that paying more attention to the remote schools was a catalyst to change. Might we find similar results in the Church by concentrating on serving smaller congregations?

Mitra discovered teachers were far less important than presumed—at least in the traditional ways. What if we discovered that preachers were not as pivotal to innovation and church leadership as we think? Small churches continue years and decades after regional offices write them off. Maybe we have already discovered something!

The time to study this might be NOW! The cost of supporting pastors is crippling ministry where it is most needed—in poorer neighborhoods. There is an undetected trickle-up effect. The problems that once characterized the smallest churches are now being felt in medium-sized churches.

Note: This is not saying that pastors should not be compensated well. They should. What needs to be explored is how the time and calling of pastors are determined along with how they are funded.

When was the last time your small congregation felt encouraged by your denominational leaders?

Mitra discovered that self-instruction is possible and far more effective than presumed. He is working to develop a system he calls "outdoctrination”—the opposite of indoctrination.

Most interesting of all his findings was the value of encouragement. 

Church Leaders, Beware!

Your sheep may stray

Your job may become obsolete

The Church was once a place where you could count on job security. 2000 years of history with the same basic leadership structure. Safe, for sure.

True, there are a lot of unhappy people in the ministry. They feel underpaid, unappreciated, and powerless. For the most part these are the lowest in rank (even though there is not supposed to be rank)—the pastors in the smaller churches.

This should be a sign of trouble. 80% of all churches are small. It is easy for regional and national leaders to ignore them. Some church leaders even caution leaders to not spend too much time with small churches.

Most church leaders come from large churches. They may have grown up in a large church and served early years as an associate pastor in a large church before getting the gig as a senior pastor. That's a career trajectory borrowed from the corporate world.

Nominations for higher office are usually a result of the recognition that comes from serving larger churches.  

Consequently, leaders at the regional and church-wide/national level may have zero experience in serving the types of congregations that make up 80% of their flock.

Once elected they have to be serious screw-ups to lose favor. After all, they have control of church media, church mailing lists, and most voting assemblies. It’s a free skate to retirement.

But beware. Those cushy leadership jobs might not be safe much longer.

The earth under their feet hasn’t shaken in 2000 years. Why worry?

Stand still for a moment. Can you feel the tremor? It’s the hum of millions of hard drives, the rattle of countless keyboards, the shaking of the church structure.

The internet will change things.

It is already starting.

The Threat (and promise) of Technology

Traditional church leadership structure relies on — you guessed it — tradition. Tradition works only as long as there are no attractive alternatives.

The modern world has created opportunities that challenge tradition.

This threat actually predates the internet. A few decades ago a few pastors—some of them with a sense of mission—took advantage of the media and created television audiences that competed with local congregations for offerings and loyalty. It took a lot of money and organizational know-how to grow that kind of audience. Some lasted with reputations intact. Some got wrapped up in predictable scandals.

The traditional church was never able to respond to TV evangelists. They didn't really try. If they had, they might have been ready for the next much bigger threat (possibility)—the internet.​

Early TV evangelists were addressing people where they were spending increasing amounts of time and attention. They were doing a lot of things the Church needed to be doing. Unfortunately, denominations, afraid of investing dollars in untraditional ways, failed to engage in this opportunity and therefore remain woefully unprepared for the most recent evolution in modern society.

Today anyone can jump on the internet for peanuts and create a following. No denominational affiliation or even a seminary degree is needed.

Pastors may be part of the only profession to escape the need to keep up with technology. I’ve long-suspected that the high number of second career seminarians is partly attributable to people escaping the changing technology requirements of their first professions. Those who can't, preach.

The failure to keep up is opportunity lost. We are stuck. Invited to the party but wearing the wrong clothes.

Because there are no attractive alternatives, church leaders can live in a bubble (for a while), ignoring the disgruntled, hobnobbing with their own elite, and waxing in the illusion that all is wonderful. Don the robe. Grab the shepherd's crook. Instant adulation from the waning number of loyalists. Sweet!

Resulting complacency leads to entitlement, which results in failure to return letters or phone calls and griping that the inbox has 200 incoming messages every morning (as if they are alone). Problem churches—and small churches are seen as problems—are best ignored and closed as soon as convenient.  

Tradition now has competition.

Pastors are starting to discover that no one needs permission to publish on the internet.

There is an unemployed pastor in Richmond who started his own little denomination. He doesn’t call it that. He calls it Clergy for Hire. It's a website. He is creating a stable of preachers who will perform weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. without requiring congregational membership or denominational affiliation. Need a pastor? Fill out an online form. Pay a one-time fee. Done.

He learned by watching. His own situation was pointing to the reality that denominations are increasingly becoming less about leadership and more about managing the employment of the available pastors. ​

Regardless of how he came to his decision, he is creating competition for every parish pastor, every congregation and every denomination. He is by-passing church authority. 

Online Pastors

There is a growing number of online pastors. I follow a few regularly and read others sporadically. Oddly, only one I follow writes for everyone and he does a great job.

Most write for other pastors.

Other pastors read and comment. In effect, they are pastoring the pastors—the traditional role of bishops.

Pastors who take part in these online discussions can do so with less fear. They can remain anonymous, unlabeled by their peers. ​There is an obvious need!

These online pastors are creating a voice and a support system that has become awkward and ineffective within the denominations—where all pastors are vying for 20% of the plush calls. Under this system, 80% of pastors are bound to be disgruntled and feel unappreciated at best and often like failures (as the comments on these pastoral blogs indicate).

How can this atmosphere possibly benefit congregations?​

Online pastoral mentors can do so unchallenged, because the higher you go in the church, the less familiarity there is with the internet. Even the official press of denominations doesn't quite get the internet. If bishops notice, they are not likely to realize the potential effect. 

So while the bishops and regional leaders lean back in their plush office chairs in their well-appointed offices, secure in their calling, they have new competition. They won’t be able to control it.

These online pastoral gurus are:

  • creating authority without election or approval.
  • developing a devoted following.
  • crossing denominational barriers. That means they can also cross congregational barriers. Pastors, watch out for your colleagues that blog! They might poach your members.

These online pastors create their own job security. They write today, sign consulting gigs tomorrow, and sign books every six months or so. Hey, it's the American way! Bishops? Who needs them?

Although most have credentials, it won't be long before any pastor without a call can create an online ministry—not much different from the guy in Richmond. Denominational affiliation will mean nothing.

The internet provides visibility that was not possible before. Leaders, ignore the little guys at your own peril.

By the way, this isn't necessarily bad. It could be very good. To insure that it is good and not totally self-aggrandizing, the Church needs to be part of the checks and balances. They need to participate.

So far most online pastors are duplicating the bubble. They write almost oblivious that lay people can read their posts, too. They are still sort of loyal to tradition even while they toot their own horns—almost like they don't realize their own power.

When online pastors start addressing congregations and church members — not just other pastors—they may very well rock the foundation of the church. All those little churches that have been treated as stepchildren for decades will be tempted to follow someone who actually listens and responds.

I am not condemning any pastor who is using the internet. I think they should! But it will change things. New possibilities come with new temptations.

And yes, I realize that 2x2 is a church blog.  

2x2 (until recently) had no affiliation. We've never asked for monetary support. We only recently started offering resources for sale at very low prices. We want to provide value for any dollar paid to 2x2. We want to be able to survive to help small churches—not compete with them. There is no donate button on our site—no seasonal fundraising drives. 

We are entirely volunteer—still small. Nevertheless, more people read our blog each day then attend most churches each week in our region. We have experienced the power of the internet.

So watch out, bishops of every denomination.

Start paying attention to the flock or it may begin to stray.

You may be without a job. Without a job you might be without a mission.

Lucky thing. The internet makes reaching people easier!