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Christian Member berries

October 26, 2016

member berries

South Park’s 20th season featured the appearance of a cluster of unusual characters: Member berries. These little edible high-pitched grape-like fruits reclaim such nostalgic remembrances as “Member Chewbacca again?” “Aw yeah I love to member Chewbacca!”, “Member Ghostbusters?”, “Oh yeah, Ghostbusters!”, “Member Bionic Man?”, “Oh, I love Bionic Man!”, and so on. When one consumes a Member berry euphoric vibes and pleasant nostalgia are enjoyed.

The pleasurable memories of days of yore come to an end when Randy Marsh notices the Member berries begin to remember things with a racial context. The storyline runs its course and people become addicted to Member berries and Randy forms a support group. The citizens of South Park become drunk with nostalgia and long for the past. The allusion to Donald Trump’s campaign promises are clear, which is summarized by his call to “Make America Great Again.”

According to South Park’s wiki page, Member berries are, “the physical manifestation of the idiom “sour grapes”, used to refer to a negative attitude to something because they cannot have it themselves.” A true irony.

Not long after the episode, Carol Howard Merritt wrote a Christian Century piece, “The great power of nostalgia”. As I read it, the only thing I could think about was Member berries. So on Facebook I left a comment on her post referring to the South Park episode: “Member Chewbacca”. A humorous thread ensued.

In many ways, Christianity suffers from Member berries. Carol sums up the Member berry nicely:

In our churches, people long for the time when going to church was the center of a town’s social life. Mothers got to dress up after a week of housecleaning, fathers made professional connections, and teens met the people they would soon marry. The sanctuary was full, and everyone understood the importance of Sunday school.

In my 10 years of full-time ordained ministry, I’ve seen and heard a lot of Member berries in the church. “Remember when Pastor _________ was here, we were full.”, “More people used to come to this church meeting.”, “Years ago, we didn’t have problems filling volunteer spots.”, and “If just get back to the good old days, we’d be okay.” The sad thing is that there were challenges then, as we have new challenges now, but that’s what nostalgia does to us.

While churches are picking their Member berries and remembering a once full church the folks in their neighborhood are yearning for spirituality, connection, community, and real relationships. Churches often lament their problems through a lens that sees the past as the only way to a better future. This cannot be more wrong. The past was great for a lot of churches. People showed up to church, volunteered, tithed, things were closed on Sundays, and “everyone” was a Christian. However, as Robert Schnase reminds us in his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations :

No church that is vibrant, fruitful, and growing performs its ministry exactly as it did in the 1950’s, and no pastor leading such a congregation is practicing ministry as she or he did in the 1970’s or 1980’s. Effective congregations change, improve, learn, and adapt to fulfill their mission…

Any renewal movement, congregational or otherwise, that is worth its salt does not find success in repeating the technical successes of the past, but finds renewal in envisioning their adaptive future. (There’s a reason Macintosh stop making the Apple II and starting making other stuff to became one of the most successful companies, ever.)

I’ve found that when a new vision takes shape and changes take place in church, Christians feel that the old was bad and the new is good. This is also wrong. When we begin to make changes in churches it is not because the past is bad, but what is being done is not effective. It does not connect with people today. It does not meant what was done in the past loses value. We celebrate honor the past by building on it as we move into a new future. As I used to tell a congregation in the middle of a vision process, “We are not changing the Gospel. We are changing how we share the Gospel.” Unfortunately, long term church people often get hung up on the “how”.

Member berries are great for a passing moment, but when Christians gorge themselves on Member berries they rob themselves of the ability to envision a new future. We cannot go back in time (if you can time travel, I want a ride in your Delorean). We can only create a new future in which God will do a new thing. Don’t we believe in a faith of resurrection and new life?

Do not let nostalgic Christianity think that the past was better and the future can never be as bright – those are the Member berries talking.

Leadership

The future of ministry is not in seminary

April 6, 2016

That’s right. The future of ministry is not going to be found in the traditional 90 credit seminary degree but in modified virtual centers of learning.

Why?

As I explained in my book, The Work of the Associate Pastor, churches must find alternative avenues for finding ministers other than the traditional college and seminary educated pastor. The full-time professional clergy person is becoming a difficult sustainable goal to achieve for many churches. The Atlantic highlighted the state of middle class clergy carrying a seminary degree: high debt, low wages, vanishing churches, and part-time pastor positions.

The traditional mainline church track for full-time pastors followed like this: 4-years of college, 3-years of graduate seminary education, and ordination. This process launched a generation of pastors into their ministry in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The traditional 90-credit seminary degree, the master of divinity, became the mark of an intellectual, professional, and full-time pastor. Churches had the people and money to support such a model. The pastor typical could raise a family and even buy a house (if one was not provided).

Those days are gone.

Now, because of cost of graduate education, seminary graduates are saddled with debt. In the $40,000 to $60,000 range (on top of college debt). The pace of the rise of the cost of education has exceeded the rate of inflation: to the tune of 500% since 1985.  Usually, when a professional incurs such a debt, their boss gives them a raise because of their higher degree. Not the case with pastors. Many pastors have the same credit hours as school administrators, but paid much less.

With this current reality of shrinking churches, downsized church budgets, less full-time pastor positions, and need for a generation of clergy to lead churches into a new culture, a shorter more focused distance modified seminary degree is needed. A distance modified 45-credit degree could shake up this bleak future for pastors and churches. Seminaries like Northern and Palmer are introducing these types of programs.

Here’s what the 45-credit “seminary” degree could look like:

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Leadership

The #1 leadership mistake

November 6, 2015

1leader mistake

No matter if you are the head of a company, organization, or church the responsibility of leadership can weigh heavy with worry. You do not want to make a mistake. You do not want to look incapable. Often, leaders make more mistakes out of fear thinking they are avoiding an organizational misstep.

When I became the head of staff as a pastor, I was excited to be the leader to help a church take a new direction. I spent many long hours refining organizational procedure, developing lay leaders, and getting my sermon messages just right. I read all the books I could and attended the best conferences on leadership. I learned leadership best practices. After many years of spending an exhausting amount time on making a vision a reality, I often became disappointed. Why were things not working as intended? Why is this taking so long? Why are there not more people jumping on board? Why are we not growing faster? These questions haunted me for years. I questioned my calling to ministry.

Then, I realized that I made the #1 leadership mistake:

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Leadership

Are your church greeters and ushers trained?

October 21, 2014

greeting

First impressions are huge for church visitors. The average church visitor has made up their mind within 3-4 minutes of coming into a church whether they will return. That is why your church needs well trained church greeters and ushers.

Charles Arn of BuildingChurchLeaders.com writes,

The communication that occurs in the first four minutes of human contact is so crucial that it almost always determines whether strangers will remain strangers or become acquaintances and perhaps friends. If this is true, and it applies to all who walk through our church doors, what an opportunity and challenge it provides to greeters! Those church members who welcome the people God has brought to church have the chance to positively influence these important vistors in those first crucial minutes. In the process, it is the greeters who often hold the key to whether guests return.

Greeters provide a valuable ministry to churches. Here are some basics on church greeters and ushers:

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Leadership

3 Leadership lessons from Mark Driscoll

October 17, 2014

Mark Driscoll

Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll announced he resigned as the senior pastor of 13,000 person Mars Hill Church. This announcement comes after months of a leave of absence and years of controversy. Driscoll’s rise to fame in the Christian world has now been be marked by poor leadership, bad behavior, and manipulation of book sales to get on the New York Times best sellers list.

Mark Driscoll was a media attraction because of sermon and book topics. The NYT even called him, “The cussing pastor” who spoke about biblical oral sex. After years of his controversial ministry, it was not his critics who sank Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll sank Mark Driscoll.

The leadership of a pastor needs to be marked by humility, passion, Christ-like service, and spiritual focus. Driscoll had trouble with all those things. Pastors from his church started to leave and the church suffered. The church did not suffer because of other pastors leaving, but because of the inability of Driscoll to lead his congregation in a healthy way. A chief concern of those who departed Mars Hill was that Driscoll was domineering, deceitful, and would push anyone out of the church who did agree with the pastor.

It is difficult to speak or write critically about any pastor and a church. A church is suffering. However, there are lessons here that need to be learned because of the weight of poor leadership evidence: 
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Leadership

The case for the 45 credit seminary degree

July 28, 2014

The Atlantic ran a disturbing article on the state of middle class clergy carrying a seminary degree: high debt, low wages, vanishing churches, and part-time pastor positions. The piece profiles Justin Barringer, a recent seminary grad who like many before him graduated the call to pastoral ministry. His story is not unlike thousands of other ministers:

Justin Barringer would seem to have the perfect résumé. He’s a seminary grad, an author and book editor, and a former missionary to China and Greece. But despite applying to nearly a hundred jobs over the course of two years, Barringer, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, could not secure a full-time, salaried church position.

So he splits his time among three jobs, working as a freelance editor, an employee at a nonprofit for the homeless, and a part-time assistant pastor at a United Methodist Church. “I am not mad at the church,” Barringer says. “However, I wish someone had advised me against taking on so much debt in order to be trained for ministry.”

Here is the reality: high debt and scarcity of full-time paying pastor positions.

The traditional mainline church track for full-time pastors followed like this: 4-years of college, 3-years of graduate seminary education, and ordination. This process launched a generation of pastors into their ministry in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The traditional 90-credit seminary degree, the master of divinity, became the mark of an intellectual, professional, and full-time pastor. Churches had the people and money to support such a model. The pastor typical could raise a family and even buy a house (if one was not provided).

Now, because of cost of graduate education, seminary graduates are saddled with debt. In the $40,000 to $60,000 range (on top of college debt). The pace of the rise of the cost of education has exceeded the rate of inflation: to the tune of 500% since 1985.  Usually, when a professional incurs such a debt, their boss gives them a raise because of their higher degree. Not the case with pastors. Many pastors have the same credit hours as school administrators, but paid much less.

With this current reality of shrinking churches, downsized church budgets, less full-time pastor positions, and need for a generation of clergy to lead churches into a new culture, a shorter more focused seminary degree is needed. An online distance modified 45-credit degree could shake up this bleak future for pastors and churches. Here’s what the 45-credit seminary degree could look like:

Continue Reading…

Leadership

5 Counterintuitive leadership habits

June 24, 2014

confused

Leaders often struggle with questions of “Am I effective?” or “Why isn’t this working?” in the course of their leadership. Organizational leaders and pastors are often plagued with such questions because unlike their for-profit counterparts, non-profit leaders often work with very limited resources of people and money.

Forbes gives business leaders “5 Counterintuitive Habits Of Truly Authentic Leaders” that transfer easily to congregations. Maseena Zieglar writes:

We live in an era in which increasingly, leaders who are authentic, and who translate this into shared value for their people, whether shareholders or stakeholders, employees, customers or constituents, are the ones who have true and lasting impact – ultimately making the world a better place to live in. Striving for authenticity in leadership is the new kind of success to aspire to, and may well one day be the measure by which some aspects of performance are evaluated.

Zieglar states that the following five qualities are effective for authentic leaders:

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Leadership

Beware of the Backfire Effect

May 21, 2014

backfire

“Daddy long-leg spiders are one of the most poisonous spiders but their fangs are too short to bite humans.” “All vaccines are deadly to all children.”  You may heard those statements, but those statements are not true. Despite facts that disprove popular myths, some folks dig in further into their beliefs. That is called the Backfire Effect.

The term Backfire Effect was first used and documented by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. They sought to study the interaction of people’s false benefits with counter credible evidence, which in turn further solidifies their misguided belief.  Nyhan and Reifler tracked how corrections to false beliefs actually increase misconceptions among the group or person in question.

Often, the Backfire Effect is studied in the field of politics, but the Backfire Effect happens in the churches. Leadership in the local church need to be able to identify and respond to the Backfire Effect.

Churches experience the Backfire Effect when congregants assume facts or completely ignore the reality of a situation. In turn they label others as “wrong” or “right”. This in turn can create a culture of “us” versus “them”.

It is easy for church folk to assume nothing is happening in “this” committee or “that” ministry project is not moving in the right direction. This can enable that disgruntled congregant, who usually complains about everything, to slide further into their emotional hang-up concerning the church. When a leader sits down with the disgruntled congregant and calmly addresses their concerns with corrective facts, the Backfire Effect can occur: the disgruntled congregant rejects the facts and keeps believing that he/she is in the “right”.

Pastors and leaders need to understand where emotional opinions come from. There will always been those persons in the church who throw their hands up and say, “They don’t do evangelism” or “They don’t really care about people”. When in fact, those statements are not true. Such harsh comments usually come from some deep drama or past history that has not been addressed. People with anger management problems or prone to outbursts sometimes provide the worst Backfire Effect. 

Still, churches must create spaces and times for people to express their concerns. It is important to not let the Backfire Effect dominate a meeting or discussion. It is best to give the facts, listen and move on. Later, a one-one meeting will be necessarily.

The more you communicate the reality or correct message to your organization or church audience the better. The more people who have the correct information the better. Spend time planning how to best communicate the truth: word of mouth, print, digital, or all of the above. Finally, frequent reminders of information is helpful. Such practices can help reduce the Backfire Effect.

Leadership

Leadership lessons from ‘Game Of Thrones’

April 10, 2014

Game_of_Thrones

The HBO hit show ‘Game of Thrones‘ has watchers captivated with the story line. Waring factions and kingdoms are at each other’s throats, but is there a leadership case study we can learn from?

Forbes magazine believes that ‘Game of Thrones‘ offers lessons in leadership with the way in which characters lead and act. Cameron Welter provides insightful commentary on several of the main characters:

The combination of my love for all things Westeros and the work we do with business leaders at Kotter International has made me keenly aware that the leadership styles we see in Game of Thrones are frequently played out in real life. Therefore, in the spirit of our favorite show’s return, let’s take a look at some of the parallels we can draw and see what we can learn from each.

Welter gives his ‘Game of Thrones‘ leadership analysis:

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Leadership, mainline church

It’s official: the term ‘Mainline’ Christian sucks

September 19, 2013

It is well established that mainline Christian denominations are shrinking. According to several prominent Christian practitioners and thinkers, the term “Mainline Christian” officially… well, sucks. That is my interpretation.

The indelible Carol Howard Merritt  is one of the growing movement of folks who want to drop the  “mainline” term. She writes in her Christian Century column that she refuses to use the term “mainline”.  The term “mainline” truly reflect a society with specific racial, class, and cultural marks. Carol explains why would should ditch “mainline”:

It was not a term that denominational leaders came up with, but we have embraced it for many years. Now, it’s a good time to discard it. Why? It white-washes our influences… Even though we often look to the male European Reformers for much of our theology, even though a quick browse through the theology departments of most seminaries will reveal an overwhelming number of older, white men, we also know our thought for more than hundred years has been challenged by those working in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, with the civil rights movement, from subjugated women, and in the midst of immigrants’ struggles.

Perhaps what is the striking is that most new growth in established mainline denominations comes not from hipster churches, but from ethnically diverse immigrant communities. Carol rightly points out that continuing the mainline label ultimately hinders the future of churches:

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blog, Leadership

The Church Draft

April 26, 2013

 

As millions of football fans will undoubtedly will be glued to their televisions and social media, they will hunger for the latest information about NFL draft picks. The NFL draft is part pageantry and part celebration for football teams and their fans. Draft day means that a team can have hope for a better season as new athletes come on their roster.

This is also a tense time for football teams. Owners, coaches, agents and managers are all trying to work together to pick the best player. With all those high powered people trying to work together sometimes egos, tempers, and anxiety can play a major role in the team’s success. In order to get the best draft position teams will give away players, negotiate terms, trade draft spots, and participate in a number of complex agreements. The world of the NFL draft is truly a dizzying drama for teams but also there is tremendous opportunity.

In the world of the NFL, resources and money are seemingly endless as players are paid multi-million dollar contracts. For churches, the search for staff and volunteers is a frustrating process. Many churches lack the financial resources for say a full time youth minister or education minister. Often volunteers have to take on that work load without pay. Unlike the NFL, churches do not have ability to search for and pay for staff that could grow their organization.

In the church world of limited resources, what if churches joined together to have a Church Draft?

I live and minister in a small community with five mainline churches within a mile of one another. Our worship is similar and so are our ministries. We pastors get along very well. Back in 2009, we started meeting regularly and formed a clergy organization. We started to dream of the ways in which we could work together. We already had a number of connected ecumenical gatherings, but we wanted to do more.

One day, I jokingly asked if I could steal one of the other pastor’s secretary since we were in search of one. He replied that I would have to trade my choir for her.  A few months later we were searching for an office manager. I went back to the same pastor and reminded him of our trade agreement but this time it was for real. I wasn’t going to give up my choir but we negotiated terms to share his staff person for our church office administrator position. BOOM! It worked. Fast forward a few years, and now all of our churches are talking about sharing a community youth minister and are supporting community based youth ministry! And, we continue to negotiate and draft ministry people to work in all of our churches.

In our community, it makes sense to work together and “draft” staff and volunteers. Each individual church may not have the resources, but together we are able to work together as one team and not five teams working against one another. Churches in the 21st century need to think about their staff and volunteers as players in the big game of ministry and not see each other as competitors.

Alan Rudnick is the author of “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. 

Christianity, Leadership

Why Pope Francis is good for Christianity

March 20, 2013

pope francis

As Pope Francis starts his papacy, it is very clear that his leadership will set a very different tone for the Catholic Church. Upon leaving Rome, Pope Francis paid for his own room, rejected lavish apparel, and referred to himself more as a bishop and less as Pope.

At a time when priest scandals, closing churches, and aging membership threaten the growth of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is starting his tenure on a positive note. In the face of alleged papal scandal and a retiring pope, Francis has decided to change the tone of the Church’s messaging. Last week, Pope Francis reminded Catholics that Jesus, not the pope, is at the center of the Church. He added that the center should focus on “poor, and for the poor.” Even the selection of his namesake, Francis of Assisi, invokes compassion, peace, and uplifting the poor.

At 76 years of age, Pope Francis is comparably young. This newest pope will need the energy to galvanize the Catholic base and gain the trust of the disfranchised. However, Francis is doing more work among Christians in general, not just Catholics. The sex abuse scandals not only eroded the trust of faithful Catholics, but also with the general population. Public polls show that lawyers and bankers are more trusted than clergy. The perception among the “nones”, who make up 20% of Americans, is that churches and organized Christianity is not worthy of their attention.

It appears Pope Francis is setting a new tone for 1.2 billion Catholics. The tone is not centered in doctrine, Church law, or hierarchy but on bringing unity to the Church and caring for the least of these. The LA Times interviewed one of the faithful and compared the last pope and current pope:

But devotees have been agog at the complete contrast in style between the two men. Benedict tended to be stiff and reserved in public, unlike Francis and his engaging manner. Benedict “distanced people, but this one — you can tell from his expression — he makes jokes, he is closer to us,” Lorenzo Tortorati, 33, said, adding: “He’s what you need for the church.”

Protestants and Catholics share a close historic relationship. And, the two sects have influence one another. The Reformation created a Counter Reformation. Vatican II brought the church to the modern world as Protestant churches were growing. Catholics and nominal Catholics have been looking for a positive leader who can bridge the divide of theology and ecclesiology.  Ashley McGuire with The Washington Post expresses the mood of Catholics and Protestants:

Pope Francis, meet a generation of young Catholics longing for you. Longing for someone to show us in the most tangible of ways that the Catholic Church defends the most vulnerable among us, be they in their mother’s womb or hungry in the streets.  Meet a generation of Protestants looking to see Catholics assure them that our faith is first and foremost about Jesus Christ. And what could remind people more of Jesus than seeing a man with authority take that authority and bend it like Beckham. Bend down on one knee and wash some feet.

Indeed, we Christians (Catholics and Protestants) have a common denominator in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis is good for Christianity. His leadership will help the followers of Christ to do the things that Christ commanded: Feed the poor, visit the sick, uplift the lowly, protect the weak, and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Pope Francis is that type of John Paul II pope who Catholics celebrated and Protestants could agree with. Francis will bring Catholics into the future and we Protestants can join with them in the common cause in the name of Jesus Christ.