Posts Tagged With: spirituality

An Inviting Environment (No Longer Welcoming, Pt. 4)

A few weeks ago, I posted on this site that my congregation is no longer going to emphasize “welcoming.” Instead, we are going to emphasize “inviting.” This is a move from passivity to activity, and was to be done in keeping with God’s missional activity in our neighborhoods. Get the vision, theology, and definitions that are the foundation at: We-Will-No-Longer-be-a-Welcoming-Church. There, I wrote that we are making this change with three emphases. The first of those is Motivating-for-Invitation. The second emphasis is Inviting-in-Bite-Size-Chunks. This post is the third emphasis, “An Inviting Environment.”

It started with coffee. Very few worshipers were staying on Sunday to share a cup or a piece of cake or a slice of cantaloupe (we always have good treats!). Virtually no visitors in worship stuck around. Granted, our “coffee area” was less than conducive to invitation. It was pushed into an available corner back by the kitchen. Though visible from the worship area, it was small and not very accessible. If one person filled their cup and then began a conversation while still in front of the urn (because there was no other place to move), the coffee’s availability to anyone else was cut off. Because we have no narthex (lobby) area, this was really the least bad option for the placement of our sacramental coffee. Yet it obviously wasn’t working.

As our council talked through our “Invitation Initiative,” it became clear to us that our environment was far from invitation-friendly. Some changes in our worship/fellowship space would be required if all those people being invited were to feel welcomed.

Now I know this sounds like “welcoming” instead of “inviting.” And, in fact, that’s partially true. Bear in mind, we weren’t giving up on welcoming; we were just placing invitation as a significantly higher priority which would get our best energy and focus. Beyond just the “welcoming” aspect of our space, however, there was a genuine invitation issue around worship and the follow-up coffee and treats.

For us, relationships are everything. We believe that the Triune God is God-in-Relationship. We believe that as beings created in God’s image, we are relational people. We believe that authentic relationships in the broader community are the best way we can reveal the reign of God and participate in God’s missional activity. Relationships are key in our congregation’s statement of purpose. Therefore, this “coffee time” comes out of our core identity. It is here that we have a chance to share, to talk, to get to know new people, to laugh together, to strengthen relationships. It’s not the only way, but it is an important way. Our configuration wasn’t allowing this to happen. Invitation, particularly to the relational coffee urn, was being unintentionally discouraged. We needed a more invitational environment.

So we looked at our overall space and considered where the most invitational place for coffee et al would be. For us, it turned out to be in a large open area that was adjacent to our worship space. By adjacent, I actually mean included. Right up the right hand side. That would be fine, except for setting up coffee and the treat table toward the end of our first worship service each Sunday would be a bit distracting, to say the least.

Someone asked why don’t we reconfigure the worship space so that new coffee area would be in the back rather than along the side. That would be fine, but now we’ve got a back lighting issue from large windows there. Plus the projector and screen used for portions of worship would then be in the wrong place and not easily visible. Lots of other small issues kept emerging.

It was discouraging. These obstacles could have piled up and overwhelmed us. But instead, we took this as an opportunity to enhance our worship space, making it work better, be more inspiring, and be more attractive than before. With some imagination (and some unused memorial money) we have a much more attractive worship space and a much more invitational coffee space. The difference in the environment—physically, spiritually, and invitationally—was amazing.

On the Sunday morning when this was all unveiled, we pointed out that the change in environment also serves as a tangible reminder of our emphasis on invitation. The environment wasn’t changed just for you, it was also for those who aren’t here. Our environment is invitational for the neighborhood’s sake, so each of us could invite others more freely. Oh, and as long as you’ve invited them to worship, make sure you invite them to coffee, too.

Categories: Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, hospitality, medium church, missional church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We Will No Longer be a Welcoming Church

We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church. No kidding. We’re giving it up. It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership, and constant reminders. But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church. We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead. We are becoming an Inviting Church. That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant caveat. This is not just another gimmick to get people into the church. The foundation of this isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop. No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world. This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world.

If you’ve read any postings on this blog before, you know that God’s mission is what we are to be about. Everything comes from that—including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation. We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls, and equips the church specifically for that work.

Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission. Each congregation has particular gifts. Each congregation reveals the life-giving reign of God in unique ways. No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone. Who can know God through your worship style? Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community? Who needs the gifts you have to offer? Who can offer gifts you need? Knowing those things, when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural then to invite that neighbor to your congregation’s grief support group that has made such a difference for many others. When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would fit to invite that co-worker to your congregation’s spiritual direction group for professionals. When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to your cross-generational faith development where you have gained so much guidance from other parents. While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you (and all the other doubters who will gather this Sunday) in worship.

Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—in the world.

Based on a council study of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., N.Y. Copyright © 2010 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath) http://www.amazon.com/Switch-Change-Things-When-Hard, my congregation is going about this transition from being welcoming to becoming inviting in three specific ways. One leadership team is taking the lead for each portion. Each of these three approaches will be the topic of an upcoming post on this blog. As a preview, however, they are: motivating people to invite, taking on invitation in bite-size pieces, and changing the inviting environment. We aren’t sure what the final results will be, but we’re excited to find out. Join us on this journey as we jump off the cliff and (hopefully) learn to fly. Please offer feedback, ideas, and help along the way.

Categories: church growth, Church in Transition, missional | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 149 Comments

The Church: The Practice Field for Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a nice word, isn’t it? It brings up images of reconciliation, restored relationships, people getting along, and everyone being nice. If only it was that easy. Forgiveness is, quite honestly, hard work. It doesn’t always happen quickly, nor does it always happen easily. It takes a desire to get better at it. It is anything but natural for us sinful human beings. And yet it is crucial for relationships as well as a witness about the nature of the God who is committed to forgiving us. We can continue to grow in our ability to forgive. It takes practice. The church is precisely the place to do so. The church, you see, is the practice field for forgiveness.

Forgive me (haha!) for using a sports metaphor here, but I believe it makes a good point. Using American football as a “for instance,” there is the practice field, and then there is the separate, official game field. The practice field gets used to hone skills, learn plays, and repeat them until they are automatic. This practice field is where you make mistakes, try again, and work at each skill until you get them all right. Then you take those refined skills to the official field and see how well you do in the real situation of a game against another team that will test how well you’ve practiced your skills. Then you’re back the next week at the practice field honing, refining, and practicing your skills even further.

Forgiveness is one of the skills that we work on as disciples of Jesus. We do so because it’s central to our life in Christ. We do so because it is the foundation of our relationship with God. We do so because forgiveness is the nature of God who created us, gives us life, and who holds us in constant forgiveness. To understand anything about God—to have anything to do with love—we have to understand something about forgiveness.

So we work at it. Within the community of the church we can practice, hone, refine, and learn the ways of forgiveness. Here in the family of faith we make our mistakes, we try again, and we work at forgiveness of each other. As we try this skill out in the world around us, the official game field, we have our forgiveness skills tested. Sometimes we find that it’s harder than we thought. So we come back, again and again, to the church. For it is here, on the practice field, that we hear, learn, experience, try, and grow in our practice of forgiveness. Here forgiveness is granted to us over and over. And here we get to try it out on each other and see how it works.

Even on the practice field forgiveness can be difficult. It is still hard work. But the crucified and risen Christ who lives in and among us accomplishes it. Through Christ forgiveness is the nature of the church.

The next posting on this site will provide some practice skills we can work at to hone our forgiveness.

Categories: religious, spiritual disciplines, spirituality | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Insights into the Election of a Bishop, Part Two: “The Presence of God Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

Part Two: “The Presence of God Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

This blog is mainly a “Missional Church” blog with helpful insights and conversations about how congregations can deepen their understanding and participation in God’s mission. However, the next few posts will be more personal. I believe them to be beneficial for the broader church, but for different reasons. You decide for yourselves.

Here’s the situation: I was recently a “middle of the pack” nominee for the office of bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). I’m sharing the journey of that process with you from the inside. I hope you find it beneficial at whatever level you are open. You can catch up by reading Part One here.

Because of the way the bishop election was set up, my name, photo, and biographical information (resume), along with the 16 other pre-nominees, were quite public for more than two months before the actual election process in April. The rationale was to give voting members plenty of time to review information on potential candidates and to come to the assembly prepared to nominate and vote in successive ballots.

In the meantime, I had informed my congregation council of these events and possible ramifications. They were supportive, asked appropriate questions, and agreed to keep this confidential ntil such time as we could agree on the most appropriate way to inform the congregation. We decided that a congregation-wide email, written by me, would go out in the next few days. That would be followed up by verbal explanation by me on the following Sunday during worship. My fear was that the congregation would somehow receive this news as a desire on my part to leave them—which couldn’t be further from the truth. The congregation, however, was characteristically supportive and promised to keep this election process—and me—in prayer.

On another front, many conversations among fellow clergy-types included the list of seventeen potential candidates. There was a lot of evaluation, a lot of questions, and a lot of critique. Motives were guessed at and qualifications examined. This began as a time of severe self-consciousness for me. I felt as if I needed to remain quiet among colleagues lest it appear I was somehow campaigning for this office. At the same time I wanted to remain authentic and speak among them of those things about which I have knowledge and passion. It was a difficult and tension-filled balancing act.

In the midst of balancing this fear and tension God broke through in a couple of impressive ways. The first involved my daughter, who for medical and other reasons had left college before graduating a couple of years earlier. She came over to the house one evening and announced to my wife and me that she had applied, and had been accepted, to return to college. She told me that if I could enter into this bishop process in spite of my terror, she could face whatever issues might come her way and complete her degree. As a self-proclaimed education snob, I was beyond grateful. I was thrilled. I was delighted. If I had the skill and agility, I would have danced. Even if this was all that came out of this whole “bishop thing” (as my family and I now called it), that was more than enough.

 

The second thing God did was exorcise a personal demon in my life. All of the old torments from Junior High that I thought I had dealt with long ago had been resuscitated in this process. Irrational fear and self-consciousness that I thought had been put to death had merely been covered over. Now that I was more or less forced to deal with the vulnerability that accompanied being one of the seventeen potential nominees for bishop, God took the opportunity to rid me of many of those fears. As I dealt with my paralyzing terror of ridicule, mockery, and snickering, I became aware of how much influence those things still had in my life. I also became aware of how their hold on me was disappearing. I can only explain the liberation I was experiencing as an exorcism. The demon of fear was being cast out of me. I was being set free. This was a biblical experience in the most profound sense of the term. It was deeply spiritual. The crucified and risen Jesus had come, found me in my terror-bound captivity, and set me free.

 

A member of my congregation asked me, a couple of week before the synod assembly, what was going on with me. My preaching, this person said, now has a further power and clarity that wasn’t there before. My only explanation was that death and resurrection are real. I was experiencing it. Again, if this is what came out of the “bishop thing,” I would be more than grateful. I was, for the first time, content in the chaos and weirdness of this pre-election process. Let the synod assembly come. Whatever happened would be fine with me. The outcome of the election of our new bishop in some ways no longer mattered to me. There was no pride at stake if I wasn’t actually nominated and no anxiety if I was actually elected. It wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about me. It was about God continuing to reveal God’s self in some strange and wonderful ways. There was peace. My yoke was now easy. My burden was now light.

 

I was ready for anything at the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. I fully expected the Spirit of God to be at work, even through the church! Which will be the focus in Part Three.

 

Categories: american christianity, religious, rostered leaders, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Insights into the Election of a Bishop: Part 1, “Fear Doesn’t Make Your Decisions for You.”

This blog was always intended to be a “Missional Church” blog with helpful insights and conversations about how congregations can deepen their understanding of participation in God’s mission. However, the next few posts will be more personal. I believe them to be beneficial for the broader church, but for different reasons. You decide for yourselves.

Here’s the situation: I was recently a nominee for the office of bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Granted, I was a “middle of the pack” kind of nominee, but a nominee nonetheless. I’m sharing the journey of that process with you from the inside. I hope you find it beneficial on whatever level you at which you are open. So here we go. Part One: Fear Doesn’t Make Your Decisions for You–

The Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA, elected a new bishop at its most recent assembly in April. I couldn’t be more pleased with the selection of the Rev. James Gonia as our new bishop. Jim is without a doubt qualified, competent, experienced, gracious, humble, and called by God to that position. I am elated that the RMS is in such very good hands indeed.

The process leading up to that election was new for us. It involved months of discernment, prayer, meetings, and reading. Last December, all people in the RMS were invited to consider submitting the name of any ELCA pastor they deemed likely to be nominated for the office of bishop. Bear in mind this wasn’t a nomination, it was a “pre-nomination” of those considered likely to be nominated once the assembly opened in April. Confused yet?

As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” No one was more surprised than me to find that I was on that list with 63 other pastors. Someone thought I was at that level of leadership, clarity, maturity, and responsibility to have submitted my name for consideration on this list. I had, apparently, fooled at least one person.

In order to remain on the list of potential nominees, the 64 “pre-nominees” were asked to submit biographical information by filling out a three-page online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod. Since I had never seriously considered myself “bishop material,” and had never really aspired to that office, declining this offer to fill out detailed information on my views of the office of bishop, my gifts, my challenges, and more seemed an easy call to make. I intended to save myself the embarrassment and headache of this process by simply removing myself now. I didn’t necessarily feel called by God to be a bishop, knew all too well the gaps in my own leadership, and understood that I had a slim-to-none chance of being elected anyway. Withdrawing seemed an easy decision.

But in conversations with God, my family, and trusted colleagues about all this, here’s what I realized during the intervening weeks. This process for me was less about “winning” an election and more about what God may be up to. Maybe I wasn’t called to be bishop, but perhaps I was called into the process for other non-bishop reasons. If God was doing something, and I was being invited to be part of it, then maybe I should consider going along and seeing what that was about. As a strong introvert and foundational nerd whose default setting is to shy away from any situation that might open me up to ridicule, this prospect was terrifying at a core level. I desperately wanted out.

Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted the requested biographical information, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could hear the taunts and jeers now, surprisingly similar to those that haunted me through Junior High and High School. “Hey, everybody, look at Moss! He actually thinks he’s got a chance at this! Ha! Who does he think he is? What a loser.” And I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. This is worse than when I tried out for the Junior Varsity basketball team in 7th grade. The whole school was laughing at the skinny near-sighted geek who thought he could play basketball. It’s just not worth it.” At that point I was glad I didn’t know who had submitted my name because I was thinking somewhat less than charitable thoughts about them.

Then my 25-year-old daughter had the audacity to remind me that as they were growing up, I had always told my kids that when facing new and difficult choices, “fear doesn’t make your decisions for you.” “Doesn’t that apply to you now, dad?” she asked. Dammit. Parental sayings of wisdom are deliberately abstract and are supposed to be for the benefit of the children. They were not meant to be used as weapons to be hurled back at you when you least want to hear them. Because they are freakishly effective.

I stewed on this for a couple more weeks. I spoke with colleagues, confided with my wife, and prayed some rather unpleasant prayers. I pretended I knew just how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, and told God that since the salvation of the world was hardly at stake here, couldn’t I just be let off the hook?

But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children, I quickly filled out the biographical information form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, submitted it the evening of the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

My closest consolation at this point was that there were 63 other pre-nominees. I was certain most of them would also fill out the biographical information and that my name and photo would then be lost in the midst of them. To my horror, when the bios were published, there were only 17 of us. My name, picture, and hastily drafted biographical information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I was certain the mocking and snickers would be unrestrained. My insecurities were flying brightly high atop the flag pole. Every molecule of self-doubt, nerdiness, and inadequacy had risen up and was standing at full attention. There was, from this point on, no place to hide. What was more, now that it was public, I had to tell my congregation.

Watch for Part Two: “The Presence of God is Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

Categories: faith practices, religious, rostered leaders, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Right and Left Both Have Room to Grow and Learn. Now, If We Can Only Admit It…

The topic of religious right/left conversations is a hot, but necessary one to keep in front of us as Christian people. We have more in common than we think. And the commonalities are stronger, deeper, and more central to our identity than any differences we can possibly throw at one another.

Dr. Dave Daubert of “Day 8 Strategies” has posted on his blog a great contribution to this conversation entitled, Responsible Living: A Shared Center. His point is that both right and left share a common concern of responsibility–whether for one’s self or for one another, we can learn from one another. In so doing we bear a fuller witness to the purpose of Christianity in the world and reveal more fully the grace and compassion of God.


Categories: american christianity, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I Need to Have Conversations With the Religious Right

I posted a blog yesterday (Why Can’t I Have Conversations With the Religious Right?) about the religious left and right engaging in conversation for the betterment of God’s mission and the church’s purpose within it. The responses to it were pretty much everywhere. My writing style can get a bit satirical, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, and irreverent. Some readers get that, some don’t. I think some responded to the title of the blog without actually reading it. Regardless, my hope was to help us all–right, left, in-between, non-labeled, other–to listen to one another, learn from one another, and seek expression to the unity that Jesus has already given to us.

My friend Chris has written a blog post that states what I was trying to say, but without the satirical edge. She tends to lean a bit left also, but there is no sense of trying to defend that position over against another one. I encourage you, if you desire growth that comes from understanding a different perspective outside your comfort zone, to click here and read a very well written post.

In the meantime, as  another friend, Natalie, suggests, take someone with an opposite perspective to coffee and listen. Here’s the challenge for us: hear the voice of God in the words of someone whose views on religion, theology, church, faith, God, or Christianity drive you absolutely bonkers.

I invite you to post your experiences with “the other” here! Let’s learn from one another.

Categories: religious, spirituality | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Why Can’t I Have Conversations With The Religious Right?

There are many who would agree with me when I say I don’t talk right. No, nothing as trivial as grammar or syntax, I’m talking the language of the theological (which is often accompanied by the political) right. I find it difficult—sometimes impossible—to engage in conversation with those whose faith perspectives are so vastly different from my own as to appear poles apart. It is not dissimilar from times I’ve tried to converse with someone who doesn’t speak English (the only language in which I can claim any level of competent communicative skill whatsoever). I know a few phrases of conservative evangelical-speak, enough to get me into trouble, really. Kind of like being at a church in Mexico and asking someone in Spanish where the bathroom was. I got an answer, in Spanish, and though I tried to follow the directions given, I really had no idea where the bathroom actually was. I think I ended up peeing in a closet.

I’d like to be able to have a conversation with my right-leaning brothers and sisters. I really would. Well, I think I really would. But there are, I believe, some significant reasons why I’m not optimistic about doing so.

First, in order to have a conversation, there has to be authentic listening. I’ve snarkily quipped on more than one occasion that when you’re right, you don’t have to listen to anyone else. Both right and left are guilty of this; at least I think I am. And I know many on the right are. No listening, no conversation, no understanding; just opposition, ridicule, and self-righteousness. And that’s a poor expression of our unity in Christ. The world notices.

Second, we refuse to understand the perspective of the other. I think that to do so, we’d have to admit that the other side might have some valid points. I know that Jesus agrees with me, and that’s as far as I need to go, right? I’ve got proof-texts. I’ve got lots of like-minded people who affirm that for me because Jesus agrees with my friends too. So we avoid the difficult conversations with those others, choosing instead to remain with our own kind. It’s safe here with Jesus.

Third, we are often starting in different places. What each of us assumes to be foundational may not actually be the case for the other. We all talk about the Trinity, about the cross and resurrection, about mission and ministry, even about the Bible, but sometimes have vastly different understandings about what these things and their purposes are.

This was driven home to me recently in some blog discussions about spirituality. I’ve taken for granted that spirituality is lived communally, in the world, as an expression of the compassion and service to which we are called in baptism. Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet in John’s version of the Last Supper is the height of spirituality for me and many on the left. That simply doesn’t register in conversations with the right. Rather, they seem to mean by spirituality one’s relationship with God on an individual level, including personal prayer practices, meditative Bible reading/memorization, retreats, and being in love with Jesus (I hope that doesn’t come across as snarky). To me, that’s more personal piety and less spirituality, and runs the danger of turning in on one’s self at the expense of “true” spirituality—serving the poor and oppressed (OK, that was snarky). See why I find the conversation difficult?

Learning to converse together in the throes of disagreements, yet still united as the body of Christ, will make us more open to conversing with brothers and sisters beyond Christianity. The art and skill of listening, of understanding, of learning from each other make us better Christians. That, it seems to me, is something Jesus would want us to do.

But then again, that’s probably a left-leaning value that I’m imposing on the right. And they’ll likely take offense. Then become even more judgmental. See? There’s just no talking with those conservative, narrow minded, self-righteous . . .

Categories: american christianity, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Passionate Spirituality of the Mainline Church

Like 9,303 other people (as of this posting), I follow Rachel Held Evans on Twitter @rachelheldevans as well as through her blog, I find her refreshingly honest and hopefully theological. I’ve been so impressed with her writing that I downloaded her first book, “Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions,” and am currently about 2/3 of the way through it. I’d highly recommend it to those who believe Christianity is judgmental, hateful, condemnatory, and out of touch.

Which is why I was surprised when in some of her latest blog posts she acknowledged she is having a hard time finding a church home. She wrote about it in a couple of blog posts entitled “15 Reasons I Left the Church,” and its sequel, “15 Reasons I Returned to the Church.” Both were articulate, honest, and helpful. Again, I’d recommend them. She was inundated with responses from mainline Christians, who invited her to their church or recommended she try a mainline in her town. She responded in a third blog post, “The Mainline and Me.” In this patient post she gently explained that although she appreciated many things about mainline churches, there were some things missing for her, such as biblical literacy and an emphasis on “cultivating a personal spirituality.” As a pastor of a mainline Protestant congregation (ELCA), I had to admit she has some points as I experienced not-so-subtle pangs of conviction. I felt there was more to be said, but wasn’t sure exactly what.

A couple of days later I got back on Twitter and read some tweets from another source I find refreshingly honest and helpful, “Friar 1 and Friar 2.” These guys are also mainline Protestants (PCUSA), and aren’t afraid to be cynical, straight-forward, and theologically precise. Also having read Rachel’s blog posts, they responded by pointing out some of the ways mainlines have successfully revealed the kingdom of God in the world. An emphasis on social justice and standing fast for the ordination of women are among the most significant contributions. I found myself feeling liberated and inspired.

I realized that I experience the deepest and most profound sense of spirituality not when I’m studying the Bible or at a spiritual retreat, but when I’m holding the hand of a hospice resident as they take their last few breaths. I’m moved by the presence of Jesus when I place the bread and wine of Holy Communion in the hands of a tearful visitor who hasn’t been to church in decades. I am closest to God when I’m in the pre-op room at the hospital saying a quick prayer with a terrified surgical patient. The movement of the Holy Spirit is practically tangible as the congregation gathers around the font while water is poured and promises made. These are deeply and profoundly spiritual times, and I am humbled to stand on holy ground in those moments.

Rachel Held Evans is right. We mainliners don’t always articulate a profound personal spirituality, but it doesn’t take much scratching to uncover an unfathomable depth of communal spirituality. Take part in a congregational program that helps ex-cons prepare for job interviews or participate in a weekend prayer retreat. Both are good things to do. Both are spiritual. Both are walking with Jesus. But for me, it’s no contest as to which one I can articulate with more clarity and passion. Yes, we mainline Christians need to better explain our motivation for our work in the world. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quiet about it, even among ourselves. But if you’re looking for a bottomless wellspring of spiritual life, a mainline church that has relationships with her neighbors is second to none. I am spiritually invigorated by the emphases of the mainline church. I am grateful. In a spiritual way, of course.

Categories: Church in Context, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Listening in the Image of God, Part 6 of 6

This is a series on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

The Stylist:

You know one of the best places to listen to the people of your neighborhood? Seriously, it’s the local barbershop or salon. Don’t underestimate this amazing listening resource! While you’re getting your hair colored or trimmed, do a little bit of eavesdropping (politely, of course). For some reason, people seem to feel quite free to express honest opinions on every matter under the sun when sitting in a chair in front of someone with sharp scissors very near their scalp. I’m not sure if there’s a significant relationship between scissors and expressed opinions, but it does seem to work. Ask a question about any issue in the community and then sit back and take mental notes. You can do the same thing in the bank, the grocery store, the gas station, and so on. Some have told me that this works well in a bar too, but that, of course, would be just hearsay on my part. .  .  .

Next time everyone on your team gets a haircut or manicure or whatever, commit to utilizing this resource. Make a list of questions about which you want to know the answers regarding your neighborhood, and divide them up. Gather in a couple of weeks after everyone has their hair and/or nails done, and share your notes. Again, make sure everyone’s listening observations are recorded. Not only will this follow up meeting get you get right down to some significant listening, but it’ll probably be the best looking meeting you all attend together!

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: