To Change or Not to Change…

I am asked a lot about change. Mostly the question is “Why? Why do we need to change anything.” I also asked a lot about why we don’t do things other churches do, or why other churches grow more than we do.  The two questions together are actually ironic. The answer to one set of questions is often the other.  Here is a thoughtful article about such questions.  Read it and let me know what you think.

What To Do When People Want A Church To Grow…But Not Change | careynieuwhof.com.

Pastor Tim

Bullying in Church?

So, I was thinking that with all the attention that bullying is receiving in school and workplaces and such, it might be good to be honest and say that the church is not without bullies. I have encountered bullies in just about every congregation in which I have had the pleasure of serving. (And if I count all my stewardship work before ordination – it is over 50). We can all have moments where we bully, and I am sure that I might be as easy to accuse as anyone on a given occasion. But I’m not thinking of folks who fall into a moment of frustration or passion and intimidate.  I’m thinking more about folks who do it all the time.  It is a modus operandi.

Church bullies usually don’t resort to physical intimidation or abuse (though they can). Usually, it is more emotional bullying. They are men and women, young and old. If you have ever gone to a meeting saying a secret prayer like, “Please Lord let so-and-so not get mad about anything at this meeting,” or avoid someone consistently because they are always complaining and trying to draw you in, you may know a church bully. If you know someone who never has anything positive to say about the church, you may know someone who is prone to bullying and is seeking support. Church bullies have learned that if they act badly enough, if they complain loudly and often, if they militantly stand in the way of change that most folks will back down and give them what they want to make peace. After all, isn’t the church supposed to be a place of peace? Aren’t we at least supposed to be nice to one another? Bullies use that goodwill to get what they want.

Now, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind as I write – as I said, I have encountered them everywhere; nor is there some recent event that has made this something to address. This is some thinking about an issue that plagues the church in our uncivil society and vexes the Christian leader in congregations nearly everywhere. Pastor Erik Parker has written about this phenomena in a pithy, ironic – and a little sarcastic – way that offers up a good analysis of what creates bullies in the church (and in almost any other setting).  Check out what he has to say at: http://millennialpastor.net/2014/01/23/12-reasons-why-it-is-good-to-be-a-church-bully/

In the end, as Pastor Parker says, it takes courage to stand up to bullies and say, “Stop it. You are not going to get what you want this way.” In Christ’s name, we can call them to repentance and healthy behavior. But we can’t let them run the church. It may make us unpopular and raise our own anxiety.  It will usually lead to escalation and even behavior that sabotages mission and leaders until, after a time of being strong, the old behavior is broken. Then, we become a more healthy, vital community of God’s people.

That’s what I was thinking, today.

Pastor Tim

10 Things You Can’t SAY While Following Jesus – Mark Sandlin | God’s Politics Blog | Sojourners

I have a confession to make.  There are a number of things people of faith say to others that drive me insane.  Now, I know that these things are often said with every intent of caring and showing compassion.  I also know they are said because we are not sure what else to say.  (A word of advice – a listening ear is always a better – and safer – than moving lips). I came across this blog which summed up my list pretty well.  You may find it instructive, challenging, even a little annoying.  It is a good exercise in thinking through our faith and avoiding superstition. Any other things Christians say that bother you or trouble you? – Pastor Tim

10 Things You Can’t SAY While Following Jesus – Mark Sandlin | God’s Politics Blog | Sojourners.

Light in the Darkness

So, I was thinking about this passage from Isaiah, so central to the Christmas gospel:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)   

This hopeful proclamation from the prophet Isaiah is part of the Christmas message. Light overcomes darkness.  To tell the truth, things have seemed pretty dark to me since Christmas preparations went into full swing weeks ago – around Halloween, I think.  On the surface, people are talking about looking forward to the holiday.  Underneath, however, I sense an all too frequent dread or stress.  I don’t think it has anything to do with the annual “war on Christmas.”  You know – Happy Holidays, instead of Merry Christmas (even though the English origin of the word “holiday” is holy-day”); kicking the crèche out of the town square; banning religious songs at the school choir concert.  I don’t really buy this kind of war on Christmas as a real issue.

That said, I do think something dark and destructive has been happening to Christmas.  Maybe it is a war of sorts.  It has shaped Christmas into a rather hideous creation.  It has involved us all in a systematic erasure of the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ.  We still call it Christmas, but maybe it should be called “Consumerist-mas” – the “Feast of the great Consumption.”  There is little Christ left in its observance.  We go on a binge dedicated to dark excess instead of bowing before the Light of the World.  Jesus came bring us the light of freedom, yet the post-holiday credit card debt will shroud us in a kind of slavery for the next two Christmases. Jesus came to give us peace, but we end up doubling our antidepressants because our stress over the perfect holiday has plunged us deeper into a dark hole.  The real focus of the season is how much money was spent and made, not how light has entered our darkness.

I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill or the Grinch.  But, I’m afraid were missing Jesus in the midst of all the jingle bells. I fear we have lost our minds, our hearts and our souls.  We live in a world where benefits are cut to millions who are poor and will have no holiday. At the same time the TV encourages us all to buy diamonds and a Lexus for our loved ones so they know we love them.  We force the least powerful and poorest working folks to work all day on Thanksgiving so we can all get an early start on our excess. That just does not sound like it has anything to do with Jesus to me. You see, my fear is that the Grinch didn’t steal Christmas – consumerism did, and we all helped.  I fear that the true power of God’s incarnation is completely negated by wrapping the manger in foil paper and selling it for $39.95.

Advent is the first act of resistance against this dark progression of commercialism.  The holly jolly world of retail Christmas plays on our desire for instant gratification. Advent makes us wait, a spiritual discipline we may despise, but is essential to our maturation in faith.  Faith is about joy, but also about enduring the darkness as we await the real light.  The strings of bulbs on our houses only decorate the darkness and since they burn out, don’t bear the true light of Christ.

Amidst all our celebrating, spending, preparation and panic, Christ will come. Of this I have no doubt.  Notice however, that the only ones who noticed God breaking into our humanity were shepherds, who had nothing but the silent night.  Maybe if we get a grip on our holiday, Christ will get a grip on us. Christ came to a manger, not the mall.  May Christ come to you whether a new blender does or not.

The Food Stamp Diet

I think this article from the CEO of Panera Bread is an important article to read.  After I talked about the SNAP program in a recent blog I received some  “anonymous” critique by mail (which I shredded with all the other “anonymous” input I receive).  Lots of people seem to spend a lot of anxiety on how hungry people might waste assistance (mostly people who have plenty to eat, I note, like me). This article may help bring home the point that as long as one person is hungry in this world, we are all starving to death in some way (to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.)  Further, I always assume that when I stand before my Lord on judgment day, whatever that may involve, I will want to be guilty of giving too much to people who may not have deserved it than to be guilty of seeing the hungry “and giving nothing to eat.” (Matthew 25).  Just what I’m thinking today.

New Pittsburgh Courier – Panera CEO clueless about hunger till his food stamp diet.