So, Your Teen Thinks You Are Lame. Thanks Be To God.

Prior to my current position, I served as a youth minister for two different churches. If you think you are an expert in navigating the any social setting from the family dinner to a formal state dinner at the White House, I recommend you hang out with a group of teenagers. They don't care about your social skills. They think you are weird. Also the only reason they make eye contact with them while their heads are down looking at their phone is because they are rolling their eyes at you.

I heard from many parents that they are frustrated or sad or exhausted that their teen does not want to be around them. To that I say, "thanks be to God!"

Teenagers are gifted with the evolutionary trait to pull away from their parents for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is that until they pull away from their parents, teens will not learn how to socially engage with their peers. And as much as we don't like to admit it, chances are our teen's peers will out live us. Meaning, teens have to learn to engage with their peers.

It has been said that religion at her best helps us to "die before we die." Letting go of our children is a practice in learning to die before you die. This is not easy, which is why it is critical to engage in a community of faith to walk with you in this "little death." 

Catechism is not enough...

From his book, The God Who Comes, the late Carlo Carretto sates: 

The catechism is not enough, theology is not enough, formulas are not enough to explain the Unity and Trinity of God. We need loving communication, we need the presence of the Spirit. That is why I do not believe in theologians who do not pray, who are not in humble communication of love with God. Neither do I believe in the existence of any human power to pass on authentic knowledge of God. Only God can speak about himself, and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us. When there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here: a crisis of contemplation. 

In all the conversation about the future of the UMC. The concern about people not "following the Discipline" and those who "unequally apply the Discipline". The chatter about Love Your Neighbor and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The chatter around the UMC is one emphasizing the practical, relevant and the immediate. To put it another way, we focus on the things that are not contemplation. 

When we are have the same vigor around the need for silence that we do around protesting. When we are concerned about what pastors are "being still" than where they are marching. When we are more concerned about the Church's relationship with Christ than who is getting married. Then we are beginning to see a Church that is moving from our crisis. 

Until the days of loving and humble communication, we will be in crisis. 

Hyper Focus on the Local Church and Unintended Consequences

There has been a great push in the United Methodist Church over the past several years to emphasis the local church. This is great! I am a local church fan. In case you don't know I serve in a local church and love every part of the local church. I truly believe ministry happens in the local church. I also believe that ministry is not limited to the local church.

The hyper focus on the local church is has many positives, however it also contributes to an erosion of the connection that binds United Methodist Church clergy. Could it be the emphasis on the local church has unintentionally contributed to the divide in the church? 

Consider the trend for longer appointments for clergy at a local church. There are many benefits to have an effective pastor serve at a local church for a long time (see pages 45-50 in the Tower Watson Report: Call to Action). A church with an effective pastor who has served that church for at least ten years sees greater parishioner attendance, engagement and growth compared to effective pastors serving less than ten years. Longer appointments also mean that a pastor will serve fewer congregations over her/his ministry. This means pastors have little incentive to connect with other pastors and get to know other churches. The odds of a pastor working with others pastors or other churches are much lower than the past when the majority of pastors were moved  every two-three years.

Perhaps more nefarious is the longer the appointment of a pastor means that pastors forget that we are only stewards of a position. We all know that we treat something that we are only borrowing differently than if we own it. When a pastor beings to believe that it is "my pulpit" then perhaps that pastor has forgotten that every pulpit is God's and pastors are only trusted stewards. 

Hyper focus and unitended consequences

Hyper focus and unitended consequences

Another unintended consequence to the hyper focus on the local church is in the overall mindset toward the administrative structures of the UMC. Many local churches have been made to feel they are the prized child and that their voice is the ultimate voice. This leads to a great suspicion of anyone outside of the local church but who still carries the cross and flame. Bishops are jerks who don't do anything. District Superintendents are harbingers of bad news. Apportionments are taxes that sap a local church. The General Church is waste of money and time. The Judicial Council makes rulings that are hostile to the local church. 

The hyper focus on the local church means that overtime the local church forgets that they were birthed from a larger mother church (the UMC). When we forget where we come from we resent the systems that were critical to our birth. Resentment comes out by no longer seeing the necessity of the very systems that were critical to your birth. Overtime resentful feelings boil into hostility toward the other until trust is broken down.

The emphasis on the local church is great, but we are now seeing the difficult parts of these the unintended consequences.

Great Pastor Theory of Church Leadership

Prior to pursuing a degree in political science, I thought I would study history. I am not a great historian, in part because I am captured by different interests, however I did understand at least one thing about being a historian. Historians that I took classes from were trained to think about what are the wheels that turn history. For the vast majority of the classes I took, it was understood that history is moved and shaped by institutions. These institutions range in construction. They could be nations, states, governments, non-profits, businesses, philosophies, etc.

There was one professor who challenged the idea that institutions drive history. He thought that history is moved by "great men/women." The argument is that every nation has a founder, every war a general, every idea a thinker, every business a creator. Apple did not shape recent history, it was Steve Jobs, Rome was powerful but it was animated by the Caesars. It is Great Men, who move history - not institutions. 

Since the heyday of Great Man theory in the 19th century, it has been seen as "primitive, childish and unscientific." However, the "Great Man" theory still has a lot of life in the world of the Church. Specifically the pastor. 

We have all seen billboards advertising churches which have a picture of the pastor offset to the right of the billboard while the name of the church is offset to the left. Sometimes, in order to build some credibility, the pastor (usually a male) has his wife in the picture. Here are some of those examples:

For reasons I cannot place my finger on, the rest of the world sees the folly of the "Great Man" theory, but many church leaders have not. The UMC has an emphasis on leadership, and the way leadership is understood is by way of the "Great Man" leader. Some examples are: 

 

  • The pastor is the one who casts the vision
  • The pastor is the face of the church
  • The pastor is the "CEO"
  • Nothing happens unless the pastor signs off on it
  • If the church grows or dwindles in number, it is the result of the pastor
  • Pastors are on billboards

The "Great Pastor" theory of church leadership is misguided for so many reasons, but for first and foremost is that the leadership is defined by Jesus much differently than what we think about when we think "great". Greatness in the eyes of Jesus is the one who becomes like a child. Greatness according to Jesus is one who serves. Greatness is the one who follows - not leads. Greatness is the one who sits at the lowest seats. Greatness is the one who dies to self. 

Great Pastor theory works in some places for some period of time, however the Church is built on Christ. Christ is the leader. The pastor is a follower. The history of the church is not moved by pastors but moved by the body of Christ (i.e. the people).

No servant is greater than the master and, from what I know about Jesus, he was never on a billboard.