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Category Archives: church

Reflections and analysis of Pastor Church fires.

I’ve started a kind of home page for my thoughts and reflections about the increasing number of struggles between pastors and congregations and the increase in bad endings.

Capture of Art 17 stats by decade to end of 2014

It will likely be a page that is in constant flux, as I have new thoughts or time to flesh out old ones.

Here’s a link: https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/peteillogical-reflections/observed-common-elements-of-hard-pastor-church-separations/

 

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What aspects of CRC culture might be keeping us from thriving?

I define culture as the actions by which we live out and express our values. As I’ve written elsewhere, we often have a hypocrisy of values, i.e. those we profess publicly are not those we actually live out. When I say values are the basis of culture I am talking about these unstated values. They actually have more influence and power. I have no idea if that is an acceptable definition of culture or near what the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture means by culture.

On various media platforms an ‘outside of official channels’ discussion is ongoing about this and related subjects like leadership and how our organizational structure possibly limits us. and even making leadership afraid to speak up. I have linked to two blog posts in the statements above that will give you some idea of the discussion.

All of this has me thinking about many things, and thoughts are coming faster than I can capture. But I find myself returning to a question that I think my experience qualifies me to begin to address. That question is: What aspects of our “culture”  in the CRC might be contributing to a failure to thrive?

I refer to — and depend on — experience as a son of a CRC pastor, as a person who lived in the Netherlands for 3 years just before my teens, as a person growing up (or trying to) in the CRC in Canada in the 70’s and early 80’s, as a King’s in Edmonton and CTS educated pastor who served two churches as a called pastor, and now as a Specialized Transitional Minister on his second contract. A myriad of other experiences, many very difficult, some very educational (working at an addiction treatment center) add to the mix.

I am skipping all kinds of caveats and disclaimers (why do I feel they are needed in the first place? could that be an element of culture?) to simply and concisely as I can share some observations from the pulpit and pew level. I don’t have a lot of interest or experience ‘higher’ up the organizational and institutional ladder.

As an immigrant-based denomination, I see us as having the following never-overtly-stated cultural values but with plenty of actions demonstrating they exist (see first link above). I’ve tried to put them in order of effect, starting with the biggies:
Preservationist – we have grown up with the implicit and explicit value and practice of maintaining something from the past.
Oppositionalist – we are used to being always on guard (defensive) against what we fought about before or against new threats (aggressive). (To me, the external architecture of the Seminary side of Chapel at Calvin College symbolizes this well. It looks like a Fort, with slots for archers or gunners and everything).
1-calvin-chapel-570x350
Relationally challenged: Poor interpersonal and relational boundaries – we don’t know how to disagree and live well together. (These will be made more clear further in the list as contributing factors are named)
Comfort seeking, not in Heidelberg Q & A 1 style, but originally in the familiar practices from ‘back home’ and then in other things. Ironically, we sometimes find comfort in reciting Q & A 1 just because “we know it was important” at one time. So too with Forms and other rituals.
Suspicious of emotion, relying on the brain as an unfallen part of man.
Fake rationalists Under a veneer cloak of reason or rationality, emotion actually runs the debate in many council rooms. So does broken or strained relationships. Another word for it is anxiety or fear.
Low Emotional IQ, in fact deeply emotionally or psychologically wounded. Especially in Canada, many of the immigrant generation were suffering unhealed deep trauma when they came to North America. In a hardscrabble initial existence, and in a religious culture that suspected emotion, emotional and personal and spiritual growth were luxuries no one had time or use for. So, in many cases, the generation now dying off were quite immature and broken. Studies show that my generation, without strong intervention and active engagement in addressing that, can be a bigger mess than the one before.
No longer principled in making choices – as practices derived from principled choice were defended and protected, their meaning was lost, we became living museums re-enacting empty rituals
That is just a start. I realize there are positive ones as well, but I’m looking for the ones that lead to a lack of flourishing.
I welcome feedback or further input.

 

 

Response to editorial about pastoral mobility

This is my reply to this editorial:

http://www.thebanner.org/departments/2014/04/time-to-move-on

I’m responding as a preachers kid and preacher who is now a Specialized Transitional Minister — where moves every 2 years or less are the norm. There is a frustration to that part of it, because Transitioning is about culture change, and 2 years just barely gets you out of park.

About moving frequently: This will affect each person according to their constitution and the way parents handle it. In my youth, moves were just announced to us kids. With my own family, the entire family was made aware and as much as possible was part of the process. Since one of our moves was to the real Holland, I have gained a ‘culture reading’ ability that is a crucial tool in my work now.

About leaving before the church wants you to: The writer may be clinging to a notion that was once appropriate for his father, but is no longer so. In a day when our churches were more mono-cultural and cookie-cutter pastors could fit almost anywhere and repeat their evening Catechism sermons somewhat creatively enough to maintain interest for 3 to 5 years, and a day when democracy and pop-poll-arity were not strong in the church, it may have been valid. But today churches believe too much in democracy (one strand of the problem) and that a pastor has to ‘keep them happy’ (a second strand in the bigger problem) and where each congregation and pastor position within them can be very different from church to church (strand three) and where – from both sides, pastors and congregations – we have tremendous difficulty being clear about expectations and abilities in an open and transparent way (four) the case is no longer valid. Plus, the statement “leave before they want you to” hints at a lack of biblical perspective on serving God in a congregation, where it is God who might want you to stay while the congregation wants you to leave (fifth big strand ‘prophetic calling’ and sixth strand ‘discernment’). I take pleasure in reading the first part of Numbers 14 with people and asking what would have happened if a congregational meeting had been called followed by a vote?

Clergy Mobility: I do see the housing equity and spousal career factors which have changed mobility ability. But the writer needs to make the case for why itineracy should be the norm, rather than simply state, like a traditionalist would, that this was handed down from the forefathers as accepted truth.

We most definitely need to revamp our calling system:

In my work I have seen that churches have lost touch with the principle of the two-fold calling, where a personal sense of call must be confirmed by the church. Congregations do not know that they are affirming a person’s called-ness when they extend a call. They tend to see it more as a ‘hire’ or electing someone (there is a lot of ‘gaming’ of the equation that happens around the ‘vote’ to approve extending a call) who they can then un-elect and un-hire. Re-teaching is needed on calling.

Pastor Church Relations has a new book out that can help a lot with the search process, but still, if a pastor is deluded about their abilities or inabilities, or a congregation is misrepresented by it’s search committee as wanting outreach when the congregation really wants to hunker down and be safe with ‘their own kind’ we end up with stuckness. In one of his books, Eugene Peterson, in one of his books, even refers to the search process as “Ecclesiastical Pornography” where too much airbrushing goes on and shock sets in when the real blemishes become apparent. The church could learn much from the recovery movement about the value of being open about struggles, rather than continuing to hide the fact that we all create dirty laundry and carry that baggage. We need much more transparency in the call conversation.

I don’t know much about the past, but pastoring has, in my experience, become much to political and resident chaplain-esque. Buying a house and having a spouse with a good job, or having massive student debt will hinder most preachers from risking-in-faith in a pastorate. The unstated value in congregations seems to be that the pew must remain comfortable and the pastor may be unique or intriguing, but may not speak God’s word in a way that rattles comfortable core values. We need a return to strengthening the prophetic side of pastoring. (I know that may mean all kind of things to people, but have to risk that misunderstanding).

More and more it is a fact that churches and pastors seem to get ‘stuck’ with one another. Too often one or the other or both languish in pain for too long and then there is a rupture. We certainly need new and creative processes to get churches and pastors unstuck from each other, and for preventing stuckness in the first place.

My thoughts here are in no way comprehensive. All of this is evidence to me that a major change in the way we are church, based on scripture, Reformed principles, and cultural context is needed. This will not be fixed by more mere tinkering. The kind of change needed is Adaptive (as another article in the Banner describes), it needs to run deep into our hearts and worldviews, and we need to find the courage to drop everything Egyptian and Pharaohic that has become comfortable for us, and forge ahead into whatever shape God’s promises have for us in the land of the future.

 

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It is good to hear a terrible (to you) sermon now and then

One Sunday recently when I was in Central America I attended an English (Gringo) service hosted by the Spanish (Tico) congregation my brother and his wife and other gringo missionaries in the area are part of.

These Gringos (mainly my brother’s family and another family) are involved with setting up a Christian Private school, and have roles in running an addiction treatment ministry, and helping out in a ministry that takes young girls out of the sex trade and teaches them English so they can get jobs in the regular tourist trade and support their families that way instead. It is all great ministry and all three are growing. The lady who was in charge of the Addiction treatment facility has been there 10 years, and clearly has deep connections, relationship and respect from the Ticos. She showed me the Saturday market, and it took us quite some time to walk from one end to the other with all the hello’s and greetings and meetings we had on the way. That respect seems to be the fruit of a combination of her personality and a factor of having put in a long time in the community. All three missions, and even the Gringo congregation, had stories about the difficulty of getting government permits in writing. The more I heard and saw, the more I think it has to do with an innocent, well-meaning arrogance Gringos bring with them, that the Ticos see and smell but that is inodible (I made that word up spellchecker) to the carriers of it. I have developed this radar that is always asking “What am I communicating that I am blind to” and that radar leads me to that awareness.

Back to the worship service. When you are not at home you expect to experience something different. I did. I was not prepared to be so disturbed by a sermon though.

The ‘pattern’ of worship there is to start with a set of worship songs that move from enthusiastic, to pensive, to a ‘pentecostal’ mood and then finishing with a rousing chorus repeated multiple times. After that came announcements, offering, and then the message to close the service.

It began with the obvious challenge of musicians leading us in worship using their second language. I was deeply appreciative of the musicians (the great drummer was only 12 and had been drumming since he was 4) being willing to risk this as hosts. When you are worshiping in a second language, and you get to the part of worship where you usually lose yourself in adoration and pentecostal praise, reverting to your mother tongue is understandable. Meaning it’s ok with me as a Gringo, even if I can’t understand. And yes, the irony of reverting to one’s first language in a “Pentecost” moment is rich and wonderful for a Reformed guy to observe.
The musicians finished and left.
At that point the congregated are all older but-able-to-travel-and-be-active Americans, and my brother’s young family, and the lady from the addiction treatment center and her young son and teen daughter.
Then some announcements.
Then the pastor asks someone to come forward to tell of some mission work they do. It’s a near 60 yr old builder guy from Tennessee or some place like that, who tells of his conversion 6 years before, and how he a year later felt God telling him to go to poor countries and build houses to North American specs (double pane windows) and ready for plumbing and electric if the people want to put them in later (but no one does) to give them away. He tells of how it has grown, and how they’ve done 12 houses now, and if you want support or be part of a team etc etc etc. And I was wondering how helpful that kind of thing really is, but when he asked for questions I stayed quiet. I’m a guest. I don’t want to make trouble for my brother and his wife’s reputation. I had already asked some pointed questions at the open house for the new home some of the same people had built that was to be a group home for the girls who had been rescued from their pimps. Questions like “What do you do to be careful to respect their cultural patterns, like their more lax approach to time, (which I admire and envy) and not turn them into little American Northern Europeans? And in fact could that be one of the resistance factors in getting government permits?” Like that. It’s what I do. But I began to realize these people were not used to thinking that way, and didn’t really understand what was behind the question… they are convinced they are doing a good thing (and they are) and don’t understand why not everyone rushes in to support it.
So I stayed still in church.
Then the scripture was read.
Hebrews 11:6, which we were told was a context where the writer was talking about faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
The word “earnestly” or “diligently” became the focal point of a sermon that substantially was a contrasting of lazy and diligent, with a long string of “definition of lazy” jokes being the counterpoint to the diligence. “When the remote is 10 feet away and you decide you like the rerun after all… that’s laziness and not diligence” that kind of thing.
The theme statement or big idea seemed to be “Work hard, don’t be lazy, and you will please God enough that things will work out for you” with the caveat that a prosperity gospel was not what was being preached. There was no caveat about works righteousness.
Very soon I began realizing that my experience of the faith journey, and my understanding of the passage, was completely different than his. My experience was that a certain kind of ‘trying hard’ that he was describing, for me almost always led to problems, and that a recognition that my effort was not the key but my relaxing into God’s will for the moment led to all kinds of great results my efforts had little to do with. I saw and heard the passage saying “Faith in God leads to God being pleased, coming to God in belief leads to pleasing God, earnestly seeking relationship with God leads to rewards that are freaky and wonderful and amazing and unimaginable beforehand.
So there I was, believing the complete opposite of what he was preaching. And I was seeing how a message like this was perpetuating the inodible problems and barriers. And I was frustrated.
Now, that all would have been workable, if this was not a “call for response” insecure preacher. But, alas, he kept asking “are you with me? Let me hear an Amen!” and at my toughest point he directly asked “Do you agree with me? I need to hear if you agree with me!” and I made myself look over at my brother’s family and think about what damage I might do to their work there if I told out loud what I was thinking and feeling, and I kept quiet.
Later, when I had time at the poolside to reflect, I came to realize how important it is to hear a bad sermon now and then, how it can sharpen your awareness of God’s ways.

 

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Rookie Reflections at a crucial point in his work as an STM

I feel almost driven to journal my thoughts and learnings at this point in the process. I identify in myself several reasons to do so:

  • To document for later reflection,
  • to share,
  • to clarify for myself as I write
  • to glorify God in revealing the results that I’ve seen, all of which are the result of God’s authorship in my life and the lives of those affected by – and responding well – the process

I’m a story teller by DNA. That comes easily. (Book: “Know Your Story and Lead with It”). Distilling stories into conclusive propositions, well, that is work. But here goes Part OneIntroducing concepts

Here is a direct link to Part Two: Connecting the Concepts to church life in general

Here is a direct link to Part Three: Crossing Denial

Part Four: Learning to live in the discomfort of the need for Adaptive change, and seeing how change comes already from knowing that. (A short version that gets to the main thing I wanted to document from the outset)

 

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Tactical Tactile Teaching of the things of the Church

This posting on the CRC Network prompted a memory…

http://network.crcna.org/content/sunday-school/legos-sunday-school

I had long longed to figure out ways of teaching the teachings of the church in ways other than I received them. So, when I got my first Catechism class as a newly minted pastor, I set to it.

First session, with the challenge of having a class of 9 young guys, seven of whom were cousins and one of the other two being one of my sons, I said this. “Your parents are going to wonder if I’m an effective catechism teacher, and will likely ask you when you get home what you learned in catechism. If you are like me at your age, you won’t remember. Here’s the deal I want to make with you. You memorize a sequence of three words that will answer your parent’s question, and once you all know it we can spend the rest of the time talking about whatever you want.” The seemingly antiparental deal was made, they learned to say “Sin, Salvation, Service” or “Misery Deliverance and Gratitude” and the rest of the hour we had some discussion about movies they liked and why, with me, unrecognized by them, bringing in theological and spiritual themes by the questions I asked.

The next week, before they settled, in, I announced “Road Trip! Get in the van.” We went to a graveyard where a middle aged member they liked and respected had been freshly buried before his time because he was run down by a drowsy driver. I had cleared this action with the widow. I stopped the van near Dick Van Rooyen’s grave. It was dusk, and the air was cooling rapidly. Some mist was forming. One of the guys said “you’re freaking me out Pastor Pete.” This made me glad, because it increased the likelihood of creating a long-teaching memory. I asked them all to get out of the van and find a gravestone to sit on, then to just be quiet and wait. I sat on one too. When I could not stand the ache of the cold seeping into me from the stone, I said, “I am pretty sure that none of you think much about being under one of these stones one day. You believe you are invincible, and besides it’s not a comfortable thing to think about. In fact, sitting here is not comfortable on a number of levels isn’t it? Well, the Heidelberg Catechism’s first Q & A has given many people you have known HUGE comfort when they came to the point that they were going to die.” And, using a flashlight, I read it to them. Then I said, “back in the van, lets go back to where it is warm and talk about what you want to talk about.”

I did not have much opportunity or when I did did not have other resources to develop the entire HC into a series of similar adventures. But I would love to see a curriculum that was focused on creating an experiential and tactile learning of its content and meaning.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in church

 

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Something got me thinking (again)

The writings of Lesslie Newbigin – when I encountered them at Seminary in the early 90’s – were, like the talks I’d heard by Tony Campolo in the late 80’s, something that resonated harmoniously in my inner being. They harmonized confusing notes that were bouncing around there. When Brian McLaren first started publishing, I read almost everything he wrote up to about the year 2002, and his questions and provocations too resonated with some of mine. But I saw also that to run with his thinking would be dangerous. So, due to that awareness and a number of other things, I stopped reading him.

Saturday, browsing the qideas website in a time of work avoidance (or, to say it justifyingly: Waiting for my sermon to ripen in my brain before writing it out) I took in two things in sequence, and saw a strong connection.

First, I read a great article by Micheal Goheen on Newbegin:

http://www.qideas.org/blog/the-lasting-legacy-of-lesslie-newbigin.aspx

in which he wrote:

the mission of God’s people is undermined when it is compromised by cultural idolatry. Newbigin believed that this is exactly what happened to the Western church; it is an “advanced case of syncretism.” A missionary encounter requires that the church embody its comprehensive story over against the cultural story. This encounter is eclipsed when the church allows its story to be accommodated into the cultural story. Thus, it is necessary to analyze Western culture and understand its religious foundation.

Newbigin wrote that “incomparably the most urgent missionary task for the next few decades is . . . to probe behind the unquestioned assumptions of modernity and uncover the hidden credo which supports them.” He quotes a Chinese proverb: “If you want to know about water don’t ask a fish.” Western Christians are unaware of the religious beliefs of their culture because they are swimming in it all the time. They are too easily seduced by the myths of a Christian culture or of a neutral secular or pluralistic culture. Western culture, however, is neither Christian nor neutral—it is shaped by a false religious credo.

And then I watched this video of Brian McLaren being asked some tough direct questions and struggling to explain that he’s trying to examine the (Greco-Roman)”Christianity from outside of it’s regular paradigm and so has difficulty answering questions that come from within that paradigm. And I thought: He’s doing what Newbigin said. He’s trying to step out of the water of G-R Christianity (I enjoy the fact that the initials are going to bring something else to mind) and is trying to swim in a Jesus stream instead.

http://www.qideas.org/video/conversations-on-being-a-heretic.aspx

I have some sympathy and admiration for him doing that. I think it is essential that we have people willing and able to do that in Christendom.

 

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