Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Machine or Mission?

In a recent on-line article, Alan Nelson writes this "So what are you doing, inadvertently, that promotes rules over people? What do you do to make ministry difficult in your church? Have you empowered your team to do what is needed to get the job done, as needed? Accountability means you deal with a misuse of freedom, but not by creating a list of rules and restrictions. "

It is interesting that other movements and churches find that they turn to rules when they do not know how to handle the people who are part of their ministry. We have rule upon rule. I don't advocate throwing all rules out, but I think that we often try to control and value process when we get scared about what the Lord is doing in our midst.

Let me explain. I have been in many a corps council and other meetings where people want to turn to rules to reign in what they see as the uncontrollable. We had an event at one corps where we hundreds of people attended, the corps folk were aghast that someone who was unchurched sat on the altar furniture. We had people wanting to set up signs all over the corps facility about the proper place to sit. This was to "protect our equipment."

We are replete with rules. We have a huge stack of them that we follow. They were made for a reason. We spend a great deal of money on adminstrators to make sure they are followed. In fact, often, the largest number of staff in our operations and best paid are administrative, not program or mission oriented. We have big investments in property and equipment. We spend a great deal of money keeping them in shape. Often, the first thing we cut are program staff positions. It is the same in the church.

Is it that we keep the machine and process going in the community of Christ instead of the mission? Is the pursuit of the machine key to keeping mission going? Even though process is necessary, does it become all encompassing?

This is a shorter blog post. I think it is because I am still sorting this out. So it is important to me to ask one question.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Unity or Uniformity?

A little over a week ago, I was at a gathering of people from our movement, where I was blessed by a time of study from the Word. One study was on loving each other as the Body of Christ.

An esteemed leader of our movement shared that we should be in unity as the Body. Amen. He then was quick to say that unity does not mean uniformity. There were a few muffled amens in the room. I think I said something like, "Go ahead, preach." Others sat in an almost stunned silence. There were a few wrinkled noses that seemed to disagree. Others I think missed the comment altogether.

I have been persuaded more and more over the years that my style of Christianity is not necessarily for all the other people in the world. I am also convinced that my idea of salvation is not the same as others. I am not a universalist, but often believe that we who claim to be evangelicals are a bit legalistic in our view of how our relationship with God ought to be. I think that often our Wesleyan roots that are about holiness confuse it with piety and legalism. Instead of being perfect in our love for God, we often think that we are to be completely perfect (and sometimes judgemental) in our behavior. To quote my grandmother "One is not superior, just because they claim to be sanctified."

I am also convinced that there is room for different methodology and style within an organization like ours. Not all of our places need to look alike. Not all of our people need to look alike.

In this movement, I think that often we do value uniformity. I believe in accountability. That does not mean that we all need to be in lock step with what is most valued in the organization.

Unity in purpose and in mission is a far different thing. Uniformity is often confused for unity. Unity in mission and purpose is essential for the life of the Church. We need to be about the purpose of bringing the Kingdom and its values to earth. How that happens, depends on the culture and context of the place where the mission is being pursued.

In other words, one size does not fit all. The question is then, "How do we hold each other accountable? How do we set some type of standard?" To me, I think this is an easy answer. Is it in line with two things.

First, the methodology and the look, must be God-honoring. It must be something which seeks to bring the best of the Kingdom to earth. It cannot be shoddy. It must be thoroughly prayed through and it must seek to bring all to the place where they can be touched by the grace of Christ and the healing of Christian community. It must serve and not seek to be served. It must be an exercise of faith, humility and grace.

Secondly, it cannot be personality driven alone. I understand that all leaders have a vision. Hopefully, it is a vision that comes from The Heart of God Himself. It cannot depend upon just the leader. It must be something that the community of believers find to be the way. In other words, there must be a confirmation in the Body as well as to the leader. Autocratic leadership is not godly leadership. It is about power and ego. Those things are not of God. We are reminded in scripture that "Jesus humbled himself....even to death on a cross."

It is tricky to get consensus all the time. That calls for us to be more prayerful and diligent in our visioning of what God is doing and what He asks us to do in concert with His will for a particular situation.

That means that not all of our centers, our corps, our soldiers or our officers will look alike. Where does that leave uniformity? For that matter, where does that leave our uniform?

I am not saying that commonality in method is always bad. I am saying that it is much easier not to think and go with what is spoon-fed to us denominationally, instead of really seeking the Spirit in our context.

A Sunday School promotion may work extremely well in one context, in another it may be just spinning our wheels. A brass band may work well in one context. In another, it may just be viewed as an oddity. A uniform in service to the community may open doors to further ministry, but on a Sunday may make many who are new to the fellowship feel completely out of place.

I know that I am treading on some dangerous ground here. I am not trying to cause a rift. Rather, I am trying to say that we really need to be incredibly creative and contextual in this day of ever-changing culture and spirituality. We can stand for Christ and be unified. We can do it in different ways as long as He is honored.

So what are the marks of unity in the Body that you think need to be displayed even more in our movement? What are the issues of uniformity that need to be re-examined and maybe counted as inconsequential? Does unity need uniformity? Am I just fooling myself in thinking maybe it doesn't? Where does denominational pride creep in?

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Did I sign up for this?

My blogs are always personal. They are an attempt to let you into my soul. No doubt, they provoke a wide range of emotions. Some side with me. Some take issue with my thoughts. Others question along with me. This particular post is one that is causing me to bare my soul and some of the empathy I am feeling for my friends.

First, these are tough economic times. Many of my friends are struggling financially. They are hard-working and incredibly frugal. Still they find themselves just keeping their heads above water. Some are not even doing that. They are putting kids through school. They are trying to pay mortgages. They are enduring high fuel prices. They are trying to clip coupons. They find themselves living at best pay check to pay check, if that. I do not feel the pinch quite as much, but still, find myself hurting for them.

They are trying to find more income. They are in decent jobs, but still just can't find enough. This plunges them into worry and depression. It seems that life is not fair. The gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow, due to unchecked greed in businesses and predatory practices which accompanies it. I have more than one of my friends say to me "I did not sign up for this."

I wish I could do something, but often feel powerless to help. I have given myself to helping people, but at times just feel terrible that I can't do much. I ask myself "Did I sign up for this?" I feel the helplessness when I should be helping. I even feel the helplessness of changing the systems that are systematically destroying the middle class.

On the other hand, I have had conversations with colleagues in the ministry of this movement. The conversation often turns to the idealistic expectations of their ministry calling. They reflect on the process of their education and training. They were called to preach, visit and serve the poor. They often find themselves trying to find money for operations in a very competitive environment. They are pressed with more internal regulation and pressure for funders who ask for more and more documentation and demands, while receiving less in the way of funding. There is also some truth to some people feeling they are dealing with those who are difficult managers.

They also find themselves dealing with ever-increasing administrative burdens. Our electronic communication systems, which we were told were to make us more productive, often burden us with more last-minute "urgent" requests, which are followed by more and more emails, if we don't answer right away. I often wonder whatever happened to personal touch, like phone calls or face to face conversations. These often are a thing of the past. We have cocooned when we need community.

With all these burdens, societal and organizational pressures, many of my colleagues ask "Did I sign up for this?" I must confess as I deal with these and other issues, I ask, "Did I sign up for this?"

So what are people to do? Is it fine to ask, "Why?" Is it complaining to ask if "I signed up for this?"

Phil Graham, a former John McCain adviser recently called us "a nation of whiners." I don't think that we are. I do believe that many, even with strong faith are finding themselves almost at the breaking point. Often, what we believe to be true about God seems empty in our times of despair. We are often like Jeremiah, finding ourselves lamenting our plight. Instead of encouragement, we often get a "It'll be ok." or as one of my leaders said to me in some of my darkest days, "Suck it up, Larry." Sorry, for the hurting it is just not good enough.

While we need encouragement, I believe we need honest answers, people to come alongside with us in our despair with a desire to help us find elusive answers and give us honest comments in supporting us. We don't often get this.

I think what I signed up for is to be a helper and encourager. I am called to be one who helps people find answers to their financial, spiritual and even their incredibly difficult relational dilemmas. I am called to engage in mission. I am called to concentrate on that. While knowing there is minutia and difficulty to deal with, I am called to free others for mission, not restrict them or dictate the way they need to do it. I am called to create caring community. That's what I signed up for.

The question, "How do I do that?" The answer is more than just "trust God." At least, that is what I believe. God can do miracles. I am not losing hope. I am afraid for many of friends. they are fragile.

So I am asking for suggestions. What can we do in our movement to help in those issues mentioned above? How can we create caring communities? How can we loosen some procedures and create a more mission-friendly environment? How can we just help people make it day to day, without just the pat answer? Can we help?

What do you think?