Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Imbalance- a follow up post

So after my post dealing with the conversation around church decline, I received a text message from a dear mentor friend of mine.  I trust this woman to be on my side as she has come alongside me with grace and wisdom for years now.  She was really curious about more specifics in regard to the sort of unkindness I was referencing.  I replied by saying I’m often afraid to give specifics, but she is right in the idea that I need to be more specific and my soul knew it immediately.  She encouraged me to go deeper and because of our relationship and the way she lives life being real as she goes along, I know to trust her encouragement.

Here’s the thing though.  I have a sad back story.  I don’t often share the specifics of my back story publicly.  I’ve been blessed to be able to work much of my trauma out in relationship and so because of that, I have reconciled relationships with people who created difficulty for me in my childhood. It is for this reason that I try to be sensitive and share mindfully.  I do have skin in the game though, so I’m all in when it comes to being a church that reaches out to those in pain.  As much as some of my pain came through negative experiences with people within the church, so has redemption.  For the times I have been hurt within the context of a community of faith, there have been five times more experiences of Jesus followers coming alongside me to point me towards the goodness of God.  The text conversation with my mentor friend that I just shared is one example of such truth.  I do believe I have some more specific things to say about the issue of church decline though, so here we go...

In my last post I referenced this idea that the church is way off balance in this age.  Let me be clear about a few of the reasons I believe we are off balance:

1.  The church and the American Christian culture are not the same thing.  If the church was able to make it through the dark ages, it will make it through this era too...of that we can hold faith in.  I am struck with annoyance in response to the histrionics around the state of the church because I believe we are confusing this fundamental detail.  That is the belly of what I was responding to in my last post.  The sky is not falling...change is happening, so I want to cut through all of the isn’t helpful.

It is the Christian culture that feels too much like the rest of our culture and not in the sort of fire and brimstone way where...

...we drink, we chew, we go with folk who we need to repent and separate ourselves from culture...

No, the Christian culture feels too much like the rest of our culture because we, as a body of believers, lack maturity.  We lack maturity in my estimation because we gloss over and push to the edges, the suffering of the human condition.  That, or we glorify it and have a group think victim stance that paralyzes us into inaction.  The bible is really clear that maturity comes through perseverance in the midst of the suffering we face.  So when we let fear write our sermons, or lead our finance meetings, or influence our responses to death, addiction, mental illness, domestic injustice, sexual exploitation, or anything else painful or messy, we lack the sort of maturity necessary to be the hands and feet of the Prince of Peace.  We are ill equipped because we are resistant to letting God’s messy plan really play out.  We want the journey of life to be neat and to be nice.  God’s plan brings chaos into order; neatness is not usually the priority.  Which leads me to my second issue...

2.  I think we confuse niceness and kindness and that is the vehicle in which injustice plays out unchecked in community.  Good intentions go tragically wrong in the name of being nice.  When we silence victims we are compliant in the act.  When we shuffle struggling leadership to a “safer” venue to avoid messy without providing healing opportunities and accountability, we are compliant.  Or when we do the flip and we publicly shame and stone someone whose brokenness is exposed...without extending a hand of grace and healing opportunity, then that’s right, we become a part of the problem and not part of the reconciliation.  Health is rarely found at the edge of either extreme.  That’s were depravity resides and we all have way more depravity than we’d like to admit.  

There has been much talk in our secular culture about it being a rape culture, where the system enables sexual violence to be common place and I believe that reality is mirrored in the church right now only with the veil of needing to be nice and concerned with Christian unity.  So when tragedy strikes and a victim responds, we get silenced and discredited.  Too many female voices in the blogosphere have written about this.  I have lived it....

Unwanted sexual advances while trying to do ministry- check
Unwanted matchmaking by a leader- check
Verbal assault- check
Employment exploitation- check
Shame inducing pastoral *counseling*- check, check, check

I don’t share this list to point fingers...I share it to offer that these sort of experiences are real, and not just virtual folklore.  (and it's not just happening to women...)  I also share because I believe that through sharing we can do better as a community to correct the imbalances in our church.

We have a church that functioning inversely to the way Jesus designed it.  We are in an era where the first, come first, where impulse is unrestrained, and where denial is held up as ideal...because of the culture.  I believe the conversation of church decline is gaining momentum with church leaders because of the lack of acknowledgement about this issue and I so get that.  There is a mental health crisis among our clergy and regular folk alike in this time, so no one is really very healthy.  Good leaders are being exploited and expected to turn water into wine with their own time, money, and resources.  The people are asking this without really knowing it too, and so there is a huge imbalance in our midst and that is creating a vicious cycle.  We are missing the vital truth while we are so far off balance:

God calls a few to be leaders of the people, God calls the rest of us to accept their leadership, and then God maintains the responsibility of saving and sustaining us all.   The people don’t need the leaders to save them...even when they demand it.  The leaders don’t need people to follow blindly...even if they resort to bully tactics.  And God doesn’t need any of us to save the church or one another...he’s got that covered; instead he commands us to love each other well.  That is where the church is failing.

There won’t be strong and healthy leadership if the people don’t support those who are called to vocational ministry and there won’t be anyone to lead if leaders don’t control their frustration and stop defaulting to indirect communication while standing with a death grip on the bully pulpit.  We need to correct the imbalance and since the conversation sparked by my last post, I actually have a few more issues to explore.  I won’t launch into them here because this post is already twice as long as I’d like it to be, but at the end of this post I will list some future issues I’m exploring for upcoming blog posts.

Right now, fear and pain are at the center of dialogue with regard to church decline, but really we all need love and kindness to be at the center of our conversation so there can be some positive change and transformation.  Kindness does not require us to be untrue or sugar coat to maintain niceties.  Niceness will do us no good at this it’s truly good news to know that we are not actually called to be nice.  We are called to love each other...may we find a way to come together to do love well.  If we are able to do that, it will reestablish trust in this age because we will be what we are called to be...salt and light.

What I plan to touch on soon-ish...

* If you ask a future pastor to have a seminary education, they're gonna have a ton of school debt.  If they have a ton of school debt, there will be a ton of stress.  If the salary out of seminary doesn’t offer a way out of the debt, then stress will become the church’s mess.-  AKA “A lay person with no idea about true statistics with regard to this issue, asks some simple questions about the ordination process.”

* Non clergy church employee compensation packages...or really the lack there of.  If we claim to be concerned with social justice, why do we exploit our own workers?

* Who is doing discipleship well...let’s celebrate the positive areas of growth in this age.

Past Posts of mine you might find fit in this conversation:

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