Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The New Urban Crisis

Richard Florida has been studying and writing on how and why some areas grow and some don't. His book The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) posited that some areas grow because they have the lifestyles and amenities that attract highly educated and talented young people. Austin would be an example because of the rapid grow of the high tech industry. Companies used to invite young men to a "Bricks and Chicks Tour." They would show them where they could buy a large, new home fairly cheaply and also the fun, entertainment life of Sixth Street.
   Such areas would grow more rapidly as there grew a critical mass of talent, so that companies would keep attracting more talent and more economic growth. Such areas were also known for a high tolerance of diversity, as well as a growing economic inequality.
   This new book--which I am still reading--is a study of the problems of the economic inequality. One of the resulting problems is that high inequality results in slow economic growth. 
   As I read this, I wonder what the implications are for parishes. Some parishes are in fairly wealthy, growing areas. Others are in very poor areas. Yet all are expected to grow, to provide pastoral care, and help support the structure of the diocese (which is needed for the benefit of all the parishes).  
   More to come as we go along....

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Public Life and Church

   This article is not about what you probably think it is about. It is not about the role of the Church in politics or public life. It is the role of how public life (very broadly understood) affects the life of the Church.
   We tend to think of the Church as a private institution. Religion deals with some very personal things. Churches are private institutions in the sense that they are not run by the government. But they are public institutions in that they extend beyond our personal lives or our families. Churches have culture, communications, ways of operating that need to be understood by its members. 
   In order for a church to function, people have to have some public skills. They need to be able to run a meeting, how to communicate effectively, how to work together and collaborate on common tasks, how to make a decision and then be able to carry it out without dividing the congregation into factions. 
   One of the things which hurts church life is that as a society we are beginning to lose those skills. 
Some examples: 

  • How to call on the phone, ask a question or set up an appointment. Some people have real difficulty doing that.
  •  Getting people together to plan a common project, being able to surface ideas and proposals, and then make a decision that people can live with and support. 
  • Understanding that when something needs to be decided, it needs to be for the benefit of the entire group, not one's own personal preferences.
    A Mass is not a "performance." It is an act of worship. But in order to celebrate Mass well, the priest, the other ministers, and the congregation have to have some public skills. A preacher has to be able to do public speaking; he must be heard and understood. The choir and the musicians need to be able to sing and to play well. The people in the congregation and others who process and move around must be able to "carry themselves" well. All those are public skills, and the skills would be the same whether it's liturgy or a national political convention. There are differences, of course; they are not the same. But the basic skills would be the same.
   These are public skills. Perhaps they were some of the manners that the nuns taught us in grade school, but they are skills which are being lost to our detriment, both in the Church and in our civil\political life.
   The skills of public life are part of the foundation that builds a local church.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Thank You for Being Late

Thank You for Being Late

VProduct DetailsI highly recommend this book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman.

He talks about the accelerating rates of change in our lives. Change will keep coming faster and faster, affecting our homes and our workplaces. It is now coming at a rate which is faster than we can deal with. There are three major forces: technology, globalization, and climate change.

In technology computer technology is able to do so many more things, more quickly and faster and more thoroughly and more cheaply than ever before. The global economy is now digital; we can get computerized robocalls from anywhere in the world. Climate change (which I have not finished so far) is also driving change. All three forces are working on each other.

All these changes will mean many more changes are in store for us. Some of those will be highly beneficial; others are not so good. But they are affecting our politics (One candidate for president was basically able to bypass the media and communicate with millions by way of twitter, whether you like him or not.) The workplace will be changed. Maintenance people now work with laptops and ipads.

We will need to develop stronger families and stronger communities where people will feel connected, protected, and respected if people are to do well in the future.

There is a YouTube video of Friedman talking about his book. The whole video is almost an hour, but it is very good. I thought the Q and A (the last third or so of the video) was excellent. He also talks a bit about the role of churches, synagogues, and schools.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tent of the Presence

Numbers 11:1-17New International Version (NIV)
Fire From the LORD
11 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. 3 So that place was called Taberah,[a] because fire from the LORD had burned among them.
Quail From the LORD
4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
16 The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Congregations are becoming more and more complex. There are more and more ministries. As different needs arise and people try to meet them through ministry in the Church, the ministries multiply. 
It will become impossible for a pastor or even an associate pastor to be at every meeting. There simply aren’t enough evenings in a week or a month. 
Like what many pastors feel, Moses felt the entire responsibility of leadership for the entire community.  People looked to him to provide food and to solve all of their problems.  It all came to him, and—of course—the task was bigger than what any one person could do.
Moses complains to God. The task is too much, so he wants God to just kill him now and get it over with. God tells Moses to choose his best leaders. God will then put some of the spirit that he had placed on Moses and put it on them. They are to handle the “smaller” issues and questions, and Moses is to take care of the larger ones.
It is a good biblical example of what shared leadership can be in a parish. The pastor avoids two extremes:
1. He could do everything himself. 
2. He can abdicate responsibility and just “coast.”
Here there is a hierarchy of sorts where people are working with the leadership and share in the leadership, but they also get some guidance and are in touch with leadership.
There are some good implications for a parish.
1. Ministries and small groups need to have leadership that is constant and regular, as well as connect to the parish through the pastor.
2. Part of the task of the pastor is to help people see the vision of the parish: that there is leadership, that it is shared, and under the director of the pastor. They are not abandoned.
3. Leaders from at least the more important ministries should be connected with the pastoral council where the vision, parish activities, parish business are planned, discussed, and shared.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Church Bullies

Another article from the Millennial Pastor

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If you have spent any amount of time attending church, it’s likely that you have encountered a church bully. It is even more likely that you have come across church bullies if you have been involved with church leadership. Of course, bullies are everywhere in the world, and are not limited to churches. Bullying is hot button issue these days, and bullying is something many people are trying to draw attention to so that it can be eliminated. Yet still, bullying can be hard to identify. It isn’t just the big kid on the playground stealing lunch money. Bullying can be psychological, emotional and physical.

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Church bullies have a special advantage, though. Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.

Some of you may have seen my post from a few months ago, 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better. In that post, I linked a Louis C.K. clip where he talked about White people. He said white people are not better, but being white is clearly better. (Warning, this video contains offensive language).

Church bullying is the same. Church bullies are not good, but being a church bully is good business these days, and here’s why:

1. Being a bully is the easiest way to get what you want. Churches are groups where people usually have to work together, and work out how to live as a community. That means give and  take, compromise and collaboration. Bullying, however, means you can get anything and everything you want. You can bend people to your wills and desires without giving anything up in return. And as a bully, you don’t have to work with, consider or respect others. Bullying is the easiest way to get what you want.

2. Bullies can offer anonymous feedback. Churches are already pretty good at not requiring people to stand behind what they say. We send out surveys and feedback tools that remain anonymous. But bullies have it really great. They can send anonymous emails to leaders. They can give in-person feedback with the qualifier, “people are saying.” Bullies never have to own the criticisms, and so are free to criticize anything they want to.

3. Bullies often have gossip clubs. Bullies are often supported in a small group that likes to keep up on the latest church gossip. This kind of group can meet for coffee during the week or lunch on Sundays or any number of places. As a bully, you can find allies who are ready to support you, who will offer behind-the-scenes support to your behind-the-scenes bullying. It is always easier to bully when you can be confident you are supported by, or acting on behalf of a club.

4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.

5. You can use your anxiety against others. Human beings don’t like anxiety, we don’t want to be worried or fearful if we can avoid it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Use this your advantage. As a bully, if you can get others to take on your worries, your fears, your issues, your anxiety, most people (especially church people) will do almost anything to relieve you (and therefore themselves) of your fears. Use this to your advantage.

6. You can use the other’s anxiety against them.As human beings we have often been taught that we have two responses to anxiety – Fight or Flight.  Bullies know that this isn’t true. There are 3 – Fight, Flight or Freeze. The best bullies know that freeze is the most common response. If you can make others anxious, you know that their first response will be to do nothing. It is pretty easy to bully people when they don’t do anything or say anything to stop you. Make them anxious.

7. You don’t have to be open or transparent. Bullies know this tactic well. It is much easier to bully from the shadows than in the open. Write anonymous letters and emails that you can deny came from you. Ambush your victims when others aren’t around to catch you. Make life miserable for people in private, and be an angel in the open. Most people won’t even know that you are a bully. Hide in plain sight.

8. You can play the victim card when caught. So what do you do when someone actually calls you on your bullying? Why accuse them of being the bully, of course! Most people will get so worried that they are bullying you that they will forget all about the fact that you were bullying them first. You never want to defend your own actions, so make other people defend theirs – play the victim card.

9. The stakes are low for you but high for others. One of the great things about being a church bully is that the stakes are pretty low. What could happen to you? Churches will rarely kick you off the membership list. Pastors have jobs to keep, leaders have to tend to running the place. As a bully the worst that could happen is people get annoyed with you, but really that’s good for you (see point 6).

10. You don’t have to change. Change is hard. Growing up and being mature is really hard. Bullying means you can stay the same. You don’t have to accept new ideas or learn new things. You can just impose your will on others, make them do what you like, and complain if they don’t. Don’t change, be a bully instead.

11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will work to maintain the status quo. Bullies don’t change, and therefore don’t challenge the system. Intelligent individuals will cease thinking straight in a group and will seek to silence those who oppose bullies (and therefore advocate change in the system) since is it easier to maintain the norm. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.

12. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself. This is the best part of being a bully of course. You can claim you are speaking for the wronged, the victimized, the silent majority or minority, but really it is all about you. That’s the whole reason you can bully in the first place, because your issues come first. Your needs, your wants, your feelings, your ideas. You are numero uno, and thinking about others only gets in the way of taking care of you. So put yourself first and you will be a great bully.


All snark aside, bullying is a major issue in society, one that often seems to paralyze those in authority. Bullying happens because most bullies know to use our anxiety, our fears, and our emotions against us. Most of us would much rather just avoid conflict altogether, and it is much easier to give in to make the bullying stop than to challenge it.

Bullying in the church makes me crazy. I have zero tolerance for it, but I have watched as colleagues and friends deal with church systems / family systems where bullies are protected. Upsetting the bully would cause so much stress on the church, that their behaviour is permitted, condoned even.

EDIT: Some commenters here and on Facebook have mentioned that Pastors can be bullies too. I want to be clear that anyone can be a church bully. Regular members, pastors, bishops, leaders, etc…

It is time for the bullying to end. But it won’t be easy. Standing up to bullies means recognizing our own anxieties and need to be liked. Standing up means risking being unpopular, it means risking the wrath of the system that protects the bullies. Standing up means knowing all the advantages that bullies have to lose (see the list above), and not underestimating how far bullies will go to retain their power and privilege. Standing up means that we all participate, even  unknowingly support bullies, when our own anxieties about change prevent us from moving and growing into healthier ways of being.

Ending bullying means change. Change is hard. Sometimes it might land you on a cross.

But God knows something about that… in fact, change is one of God’s favourite tools to work with –  crosses are God’s speciality.

Are church bullies the worst? Been bullied at church? Share in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Thursday, May 12, 2016


5 Truths we don’t want to admit about church decline

Last Sunday in my sermon, I wrote about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple, and noted that much of western Christianity is waking up the day after the tables have been overturned. Our prominence at the centre of society is long gone. Now we are dealing with the reality of numerical and financial decline. These days church leaders are looking to experts, programs,  and books that will help us figure out what on earth is going on, and why so many have just stopped coming to church.
As a millennial and a pastor, I regularly hear church people bemoaning the loss of young people. This is evident to me in the fact that I have been pastor to only a handful of people my age. The ‘Nones’ are the new buzz group that concerned church leaders want to reach. Church people want to understand why so many of my generation are opting for something other than church attendance and how that can be changed.
The other group current church people long for are the lapsed members I regularly hear church people wanting to “bring back.” Programs like Back to Church Sunday are popular. Mission and discipeship gurus are all over the place, helping pastors, church leaders and lay people figure out how to lead churches, how to figure out what on earth we are supposed to be doing as the Body of Christ.
And yet, with all the focus on our decline as Christians in the West, particularly, mainline Christians, important truths are rarely spoken about. There are realities that I think many of us can see, but we don’t want to admit are significant in our apparent “decline.”
1 Measuring decline by numbers causes us to lose sight of our mission. 
I admit, when I see a new face in church, or get asked to do a baptism, I am inwardly excited. New people, larger numbers of faces in the pews, increased giving. These are all easy indicators of success. Except they aren’t. Jesus didn’t say, “Go therefore and get bums in the pews and money in the offering plates in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
When churches measure our ministry by these numbers, our real purpose of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments becomes a selling feature. When our goal is full pews and offering plates, word and sacrament become the means of filling pew and offering plates.
“Success” takes on a different definition if we stop using numbers to measure it. Preaching the gospel is preaching the gospel whether it is to 2, 20, 200 or 2000 people. Oh, and yes, I have heard that accusation that this notion is just something that pastors of small dying churches cling to… yet if our success is measured by numbers we have lost sight of what the Gospel actually does in our lives.
2 Many of our sacred cows are causing our decline. (ie. Sunday School & VBS, Bible Study, programs, music groups, church committees)
There are always very important, very special things that churches do that we are simply unwilling to let go of. These programs or activities began as life-giving endeavours for congregations, but over time have lost their ability to meet the needs and purposes of congregations. I know churches full of seniors in communities that are populated with folks predominantly of retirement age who insist on having Sunday School. There are committees and programs that have become defunct or purposeless that churches refuse to axe, even though they become a struggle keep up and don’t achieve their founding goals.
As we cling to sacred cows we fail to see the unintended consequences that are hurting us. Sunday school was intended to teach kids the faith, but has allowed parents to abdicate responsibility of teaching faith in the home. Instead of empowering us to live out our baptismal callings, committees on Stewardship, Evangelism, Learning, or Support (among others) let us leave this important work to a committee that meets once a month. Programs allow us to turn basic practices of faith like studying the bible, evangelizing through relationship, ministry to children, youth, families or seniors into very compartmentalized sets of behaviour rather than natural activities of faith.
We so often hold onto things that are actually hurting us because of deep-seated senses of obligation or loyalty. We get so stuck wanting to not disappoint those who went before us that we fail to make our communities ready for those who will come after us.
3 God just might be calling us to die. 
So many churches (and people for that matter) live and behave as if they are going to last forever. We make choices as communities as if our current state is going to be our static condition for the rest of time. We don’t have urgency… or the urgency of our conditions causes us to respond with flight or fight or freeze responses. We freeze up and choose to do nothing in the face of crisis, even when we understand that doing something – anything – is necessary.
What if churches had “Bucket Lists”? What if we made decisions about what we choose to spend our time and resources on knowing that we will one day die? Instead of working so hard just to stay afloat in perpetuity, what if we looked at all the things we could do before the end. There are not many churches closing these days because they made bold choices, gambled their resources and failed. There are lots of churches slowly petering out, after years of just getting by.
Admitting that God might be calling us to die means changing the way we see death. We so often see death, especially the death of a church, as failure. What if we saw death as a natural part of life and ministry? What if death was expected for our churches? Maybe all those mission and vision, discipleship and evangelism gurus might not seem so important anymore.
4 Our problem isn’t lack of mission, it is wrong mission. 
Most mainline churches in North America were started less than 125 years ago. A lot were founded in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Communities of the faithful saw a need for a worshipping church in their midst. So they gathered members, raised funds to build buildings and call pastors. Energy was high, excitement was infectious, people came because the purpose and mission was clear.
And then buildings were built, funds were raised, pastors called and programs started.
But the mission didn’t change.
Most of the gurus or consultants that church leaders are seeking today have the same message: we have lost sight of the mission. If this were true, I don’t think there would be enough to keep the members that most churches still have from dispersing to the wind.
I think churches still have a strong sense of mission – build the building, raise the funds for pastors and programs. We accomplished those things decades ago, yet we still are trying to organize ourselves around them. Maybe it isn’t breaking ground, but it is making sure the carpets are new, and light fixtures clean, and shingles are replaced. Maybe it isn’t calling that first pastor, but it is making sure the budget can afford to pay for a pastor.
We are still trying to band together around those fledgling goals of starting a new church, even though we achieved them years ago. We don’t realize how people who want more than buildings and funds for pastors and programs are put off by our single-minded concern for those things.
5 We have let worship become entertainment instead of community forming. 
Whether it is mega-church contemporary worship or cathedral mass, whether it is a small community gathered for song and prayer or simple liturgy… our attitudes about worship have been transformed by the world around us. Our consumer culture has been turning us into creatures seeking to be entertained, distracted, and looking for things that appeal to our preferences.
I have heard many faithful church members, who are generally concerned about growing in their faith, slip into talking about worship as if it was a menu of food to choose from or different acts of a play. We enjoy sermons, we like music, we appreciate readings.
We have stopped participating in worship. We have stopped seeing the role of the congregation as integral to worship happening. While most church members wouldn’t agree if asked, we act as if worship could happen without anyone in the pews. We approach worship like theatre that doesn’t need an audience, but that no one would put on without an audience.
Worship should be the ritual action of faithful Christians. Worship should be a way to grow in faith as individuals and as community through prayer, song, word, and sacraments. The things we do and practice in worship prepare us for life in the world. We practice confession and forgiveness, we practice sharing God’s story and our story, we practice washing and feeding and tending to the world around us. We practice reconciliation and prayerful concern for the world around us. The things we do in worship should shape how we live out our faith. Our desire to be entertained should not shape worship.
Admitting the truth to our decline.
Admitting the truth of our decline is not an easy business. When the mission, discipleship and evangelism consultants come by to tell us how to fix ourselves, the hand-wringing that results is easy. But talking about these truths about our decline and how these realities shape us is not easy stuff… in fact, it is nearly impossible.
The fact is, more churches tend to slowly die, rather than truly change and find new life. This shows that admitting these truths in order to change them is harder than dying. Most of the time we will choose to die.
But that is okay.
The flawed ministry that we are doing despite of and in the midst of these truths is not unfaithful ministry. In fact, working with dying, flawed, wrong missioned churches and people is exactly the kind of work our God gets up to in the world. And that is also where we are in trouble. Whether we like it or not, admitting these stark truths about ourselves as we die, is all too often just how God chooses to bring us into new life.
And that is the most important truth of all.

Are churches really facing up to their decline? What other truths are we failing to admit? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik