The congregation I serve as pastor might be a tiny country church, but COVID has affected us too with school closures and church-adaptations. With so few kids and families coming to in person worship services because of concerns with the pandemic, I thought it was best to move our children’s sermons from Sunday mornings in worship to Tuesday morning video messages from the parsonage.
This week’s children’s message was on how sometimes we get stuck in our ways and stuck in our faith–sometimes as sticky as peanut butter, and what we can do to respond to that stickiness.
My tiny assistant and I invite viewers to pray and join in the lessons in their homes, with a different faith topic each week. You can view them here! If nothing else, each week I get a few giggles seeing what thumbnails show up, as Caroline’s faces are often just plain hilarious.
I hope you and your loved ones are doing well during this weird season. If you need a worshipping home, or just want to worship in a different way with our crew, know you are welcome here, in person or online!
Grace and peace to you from our Lord God, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one who has a hard time whittling things down. Like many other young adults in the month of July, our place is full of moving boxes, with very full recycling and trash bins.
As I’m going through my things and nic nacs, I found a graduation tassel that says in gold letters “09.” It’s probably been years since I touched it, and a total of 7 years since it actually served a function. But as my fingers sifted through the floppy cotton lines, I was reminded of a really great day of family, and friends, and joining my sister as the second generation of our family to earn bachelors degrees. Should I toss it? Should I keep it?
This is why it’s so hard to throw away things. Because things have meaning and they tell us stories of who we are.
But still, although I decided to keep that graduation tassel, I’m reminded that those things aren’t all of who I am. I am not my things. Even though they give me a sense of security, I am not my things. And that doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning, but when they become the only place that we seek to find out who we are, we’re ultimately disappointed and the answer we seek is incomplete every time.
We realize that we have foolishly raised the finite, Earthly things, our things, to the same level as God.
And I’m afraid that’s the trap that our rich friend has fallen into today found in the 12th chapter of Luke.
Jesus is asked by a nameless man what he should do about his unfair share of his family’s inheritance in the middle of a chaotic, loud crowd. Jesus responds with a parable where a rich man steps back and surveys his abundant crop from a good year. He realizes he doesn’t have enough storage space, so the solution he comes up with is to build not one but many bigger and better barns. All the barns!
Now this parable isn’t just about any person, but a rich man. This is not surprising seeing that we’re in the book of Luke—a gospel that is all about the Great Reversal that Jesus taught about, preached about, and exemplified in his death and resurrection. At the event of the cross, the sin and greediness of the world, and broken relationships were reconciled and made whole in Christ. For a poor man from Galilee, God’s love was poured out into this savior of the world, upending the Roman’s expectations of what a King could look like and do for all humankind.
In our world in the 21st century where those with money and means are featured in the media, those who are looked upon with favor here in Luke are the poor, the widow, and people like Mary, Jesus’ own mother. Luke challenges and reverses our understanding of who is favored, as Mary sang with her relative Elizabeth that “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” We hear about Zacchaeus, the beatitudes where the poor, not the rich, are given the Kingdom of God. Luke’s interest of reversing our expectations of what it means to be rich is shown once again in this unique parable that Jesus shares with a crowd.
It’s as if Luke knew that we would struggle with money and possessions. It’s as if Jesus knew we would struggle in our relationships with money and possessions.
Money is one of those things that touches almost every part of our lives. We make retirement and career decisions with it. We feel more secure with it. We make decisions about where we live and vacation with it.
Even more so, we care what our family or friends will think if they know we have to shop at that grocery store, or use that kind of payment, or what if they knew my credit score, or find out that I don’t know what a credit score is? Sometimes, or all the time, it can feel like we never have enough money or possessions. There’s always something you can’t afford, or is always just beyond our reach. That hunt to feel satisfied, to feel like you have enough, can be a hunt that we’re so embedded in, that we can be blind to the fact that the hunt is all we’re on. This hunt is the only way that we find meaning, or feel joy in our days. Money, and possessions, happiness and identity are tied together in a web that can feel all too mysterious and overwhelming to sort out.
Money and our stuff–touches a very vulnerable part of us. It has the power, if we let it, to tell us who we are.
Today though, we are shown that it’s only in God, in the death and resurrection of Christ, it is proclaimed to us who we are. A theology of the cross here tells a thing what it is. And God doesn’t take that lightly. God tells us the truth… which on any other day I would say God says I love you! Or You are a part of my flock.
But today, God tells us the truth that we are fools.
And mind you, this is the only time God says anything directly in a parable in the entire book of Luke. And God uses these choice words to address the rich man: “You fool.”
Now, this might feel a little harsh, but it’s a good thing! Otherwise we (and likewise the rich man too) might convince ourselves we have perfect relationship with money, which just isn’t true. God tells us the truth: we are fools.
So often we breeze over this proclamation and go straight to the ominous warning “This very night your life is being demanded of you…”
Before this God tells us up front, plain and clear: You fools.
You fools who value your money and possessions for their ability to ground your whole identity and not for their ability to make you grateful for the bigger meaning and story they connect you too.
You fools who make isolated decisions from your neighbor and your God, and instead of sharing your abundant crop and share, you build your own bigger barn.
This rich man with his bigger and better barns points for us to futility of our choices, and our utter dependence and need of Christ.
Because on our own we can’t stop making poor choices about money. Because on our own we can’t stop defining ourselves by our possessions or bank accounts.
In prayer and in rich relationships that are quantified by time and not a price tag—it’s there we listen and experience the invaluable gift of Christ. Where God takes our greediness and ill-directed attempts at figuring out who we are, and in the cross, through Christ turns them into proclamations that tell us the truth that “You are a fool” and “You are loved.”
Through Christ, God turns them into opportunities for connection, making decisions about money and possessions in conversation with our neighbors, and giving us eyes to see how we understand ourselves through the lens of Christ—a lens that is always infused with unconditional love, as we are both looked upon with favor, and told “You are a fool.” We can’t do this alone, and through Christ our relationship with our neighbors, with money, and our relationship with God is made right.
Right up front, Luke writes in chapter one that the reason he writes this gospel is “So that you may know the truth.” There is no other purpose to tell the story of Jesus than to tell the truth. And that’s what God does for us today. We are told the truth that we are fools—and what better fool to be than a fool for Christ.
A fool that proclaims that light can defeat the darkness.
A fool that sees the cross and doesn’t see death but sees life eternal.
A fool that sees 5 loaves and 2 fish and is confident it can feed 5,000 people.
May we see the truth that we are fools, and see even more clearly Christ’s love working through our relationships and our lives. Amen.
This past weekend I preached at my internship site on Luke 7:1-10. Here’s what I said:
Grace and peace to you from our savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It’s a weird time to be a pastoral intern. I mean that in my calendar here – we’re less than three month away until my internship is complete. I wrote in my personal calendar a couple weeks ago all the preaching and worship assisting weekends I have left and got to see what Sunday will be my last one where I preach (I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to wait and see).
The thought crossed my mind, “Wow, that’ll be fun, I’ll preach what’s on my heart and what I feel God really wants me to say, and I’ll put it all out there.”
But that’s not really a way to preach on a last Sunday. That’s how you preach every time.
So here we go:
Today’s Gospel story is all about speaking the word.
Because that’s what this centurion, a Roman officer, asks Jesus to do so his servant can be healed. He says speak the word and heal my servant.
Like Ezekiel speaks and dry bones get up and walk like we read in the Old Testament.
Jesus here speaks and heals a man, and he’s not even near him.
Speaking changes things. Speaking changes people.
Speak the word.
Like the apostles dared to speak as they felt a spark of fire on top of their heads after Jesus ascended into heaven.
Speak the word – not knowing what exactly you’ll say, but trusting beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will speak through you – Christ will bring new life through you – and the Holy Spirit will unite people through you, speak the word.
And yes, I am playing with words here. We use words to write and speak, and Jesus is also the word in the beginning with God (John 1). Jesus found a home here in our skin to know our ups and downs, our emotions and experiences all the way to death on a cross; so that he might give us abundant life…so that we might rise in a resurrection and new life with him. We have the privilege of speaking words and the word.
Now, you might be thinking, that since I’m a pastoral intern and Kathy and Peter are your pastors, that we speak the word, that’s our job, but I have bad news for you: you are called to as well. In Acts 2 it says, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”– a promise that holds you and calls you to speak.
“Speak the word and let my servant be healed”—for Jesus speaks through you for the sake of someone’s life.
This looks like Moses when God spoke to him and called him through the burning bush.
This looks like the women at the tomb who first witnessed the resurrection.
This looks like the Samariatan woman at the at the well in the gospel of John, who for all intensive purposes should not have been talking to Jesus, a single man, in broad day light, but nonetheless went back to her town praising God and calling her people to join in this movement of Jesus.
This year Pastor Peter and I taught “A Year of Living Luke” and together we dove into the book of Luke and had some fun and good questions along the way. During the Spring at the end of every class I asked two questions: now that we’ve read this Bible story, what have we learned about who Jesus is, and who we are? Who is Jesus? Who are we?
I took notes, and over the weeks this is who we discovered Jesus is to us:
Caretaker, healer, truth-teller, and yes, at times you can see “frustrated” on the right side.
Today we hear this Roman officer strongly encouraging Jesus – speak the word, and let my servant be healed. Let one of my people be healed.
Jesus, let us be healed.
Because at the root of this, and I think you know this, Jesus speaks through you. The Spirit of Jesus continues to soar in our lives, calling us to moments where we can lend a hand, help a stranger, and serve those who are struggling. I think you know this, but Jesus continues to redeem this world, to heal this world, and to bring love to this world, still today, through you. Jesus speaks through you.
You might be wondering though, like I do: What if we don’t speak the word? Sometimes I think speaking the word or a word of love, peace, or hope can be left to the experts; I’d rather not get into that business. Maybe you’re thinking that too.
So what if we don’t speak?
I’m willing to bet that God will find a way to bring about hope and love in this world. It’s not up to us to save the world or heal the world. We just trust God is working through us in some capacity – but what if we don’t. What if we don’t speak the word?
My question back to you: Why does that matter?
Are you asking because you don’t have enough time—time that God gave you?
You don’t have enough money/resources—money/resources that God gave you?
You don’t have enough brain-space—a beautiful intelligent brain that God gave you?
I don’t mean to guilt-trip anyone here. But we’re sounding an awful lot like Moses.
Wherever Moses was, and wherever you are, the words you speak–of love, forgiveness or healing–matter. Speak the word.
I wonder, do you know why we say the words of institution every week, the words before communion, “In the night in which he was betrayed…this cup…shed for all people… do this in remembrance of me?”
Because you heard these words last week. You heard those words 5 weeks ago. Maybe you heard those words last week on this same fourth weekend in May. Maybe your parents heard those words the weekend they knew they were driving the family to their new home, or the weekend after one of their parents’ passed away. Your pastors heard those words when they were kids. The people who built this sanctuary, this church, heard those words. The people gathered to ordain the first woman in our Lutheran church in 1971 heard those words. This church’s grandparents and great-grandparents. A skeptical yet faithful Catholic priest in 1517 said these words. At the risk of death by their colonizers, the first followers of Jesus said these words behind closed doors. Jesus said these words to help his closest friends know that they are and will not be alone, because his story of abundant love and everlasting salvation holds them.
Because words make dry bones walk.
They help us understand that my story is your story, and your story is our story.
And like the women at the tomb, they remind us with new eyes and new ears that Christ has risen from the dead.
That is not something that you keep in! Speak the word!
I’ll end with two stories.
In New Jersey, a Jewish rabbi heard a window crack and fire filled his room. Someone threw something like a firebomb into their home, which is the second floor of their synagogue. He was targeted in a hate crime because he was Jewish. Days later he was talking with other religious leaders in the area, and the mail started pouring in. Letters of love and support came to their synagogue from all over the country, from leaders of Jewish, Christian, and Lutheran faith communities, colleges and organizations. Those written words were spoken so that this faith community heard loud and clear: fear and death do not have the final word.
At the Spring commencement this year for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, graduate Donovan Livingston shared the wisdom and observation of his 7th grade teacher: “let’s put all your energy to good use.”
In Donovan’s speech and spoken word poem, he then shares what she once spoke to him: “Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice.”
Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice–a voice that, in all your imperfections and “not good enoughs,” can speak a word of love and new life.
Especially in college, I realized that as much as I learn effectively from books, I learn a lot from listening to people tell their stories. This class is no different! So, I designed an assignment (yes I dream about designing assignments for myself, I am strange) where I interview two people about the role of church administration in their work.
C is an office administrator at a larger Lutheran congregation in the Pacific Northwest, and A is a pastor of a 2-point parish in Texas. As her central role, I wanted to know from C what it was like to manage church administration all day. Also, since I want to be a pastor, I thought it might be smart to interview someone who is currently a pastor, whose call has imbedded administrative roles as a leader of two different congregations.
I took my notes from our conversations and arranged them into main themes that I heard rise to the top. So – in paraphrased form here’s what they said about the role of church administration and why it matters:
I’m learning that when it comes to church administration…
A: I came in and people were already doing administrative jobs. I am one among many who manages administrative roles in my congregations. Someone else gets the mail, someone else runs budget meetings (which I attend), and someone else does the day-to-day financial management, even though check-in on it regularly.
C: Yes, I have lots of administrative tasks, but a lot of my time is spent visiting with people who come in my office. Often individuals will find me on a Sunday morning to tell me something about their health or about a family member or friend. Longevity has helped with building up relationships and people trusting me.
The best part of church administration…
A: I get to be like a gardener and help people identify their gifts, whether they are administrative or otherwise.
C: The people. It was “unreal” when my spouse passed away. So many people came by with dinners and casseroles that we had turn them away and groups started getting mad. They wanted to help so badly, and their compassion touched me, and still does.
Most challenging part…
C: As the congregation grows, in membership and thus staff size, my job as administrative support changes. This congregation has experienced tremendous growth recently, and this impacts how I support the congregation and staff members in an administrative way.
The one of the best things you can do is…
A: As a parish pastor, it’s important communicate things far in advance, and in more modes than one. Our church and other local churches collaborated and led a youth event. With my gift of administration, I did a lot of the calling, communicating, advertising, etc., and sometimes it felt discouraging that other churches didn’t have or didn’t empower their members to manage their administrative tasks.
A: Acknowledge it’s a gift or not. If administration is not your gift, ask for help, and it’s okay to ask your parishoners for help. I lean a lot on my parishoners when we do visioning work, and they lean on me with a number of administrative tasks.
It’s all about…
C: Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. This is why my faith is so key to being a church administrator. Know why you’re caring for these people and this facility; otherwise it might be a challenge to put in the effort or care this role requires.
What I (Allison) think:
From these interviews, I gained a new sense of appreciation for these church leaders and their roles. Neither of them are counting, arranging, organizing, or communicating in front of their computers all day. Their roles are extremely human, and they helped me see that administration enables them to connect with individuals and communities even more effectively. Like A said, not all of us have gifts in administration, but if you recognize that you don’t, don’t be afraid to ask for help! I’m so grateful for both of these church leaders and especially people like C who manage administrative tasks that keep our faith communities running. Thanks for sharing your stories with me, and learning with me what it means care for people, which includes the (all essential) administrative side of things!
In this sixth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about conflict and legal matters for congregations. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “When Conflict Comes Calling,” and “Life under Law” (pgs. 241-290) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.
You might have noticed that we have reached week six of a six week reflection series for my independent study on Church Administration. There will be one more post coming up on a couple interviews with church professionals about the role of administration in their work and service. But this is the last post specifically on Church Administration by Bacher and Copper-White. I feel like I have more to write about on this topic than this class can contain. Likewise, I can see, from the citations and footnotes and tone of writing of these authors, that these folks have more to say too!
Both of these last chapters had great practical content that I could see referencing back to in my first call. Once again, I recommend this book to clergy and others who are invested in church leadership. Especially in the chapter, “When Conflict Comes Calling,” I found myself feeling affirmed by their suggestions from my lived experience, and curious as to how I might implement and/or translate these helpful tid-bits to my future congregation, council, or leadership team.
I think it’s key to remember, for an “eagle eye” view framework, that conflict is not sinful. For instance, the prophets, for good or bad, were called by God to speak out against the behaviors of their people that distanced them from God, or further harmed their people. This doesn’t mean that conflict in a community is sinful, but that a life of faithfulness can bring an entire people to connection with God, and part of that growth involves conflict.
As an individual leader, I think it was a good reminder that conflict might feel uncomfortable, but it just might be a sign that you and/or your relationship with another is growing. Bacher and Cooper-White mention that many of Paul’s letters contain admonition and instruction on how to live in a community with individuals who do not agree all the time. At the root of his letters is a desire for these communities to grow in a closer relationship with God as the body of Christ. He doesn’t “sweep [conflict] under the rug,” but calls them to engage together for the sake of growth and God’s mission among them.
One of the helpful practices in this chapter is conducting a conflict “diagnostic assessment,” which includes questions like this:
Who are the parties [in] the conflict?
Which individuals and groups are involved?
What are their formal and informal roles within the community’s organizational system?
Also a key question I believe is What do they say they want? In my CPE unit last summer I found it helpful to do a spiritual assessment with people on my unit. It helped guide my next steps and approach, while keeping their best interest and well-being at the center (whatever that meant to that individual/family). I think this conflict diagnostic assessment would function in the same way with a congregation in the midst of conflict. Check out the rest of the questions on page 255.
As a facilitator or moderator during a time of conflict, I think it’s helpful to read page 258, which explains the impact of having “ground rules.” These are things that are as simple as providing refreshments, placing chairs in a circle, not a rectangle, and to create a “rules of engagement” list that contains things like “We will attempt to focus on and discuss or debate issues, avoiding personal attacks and disparaging comments about the attitudes and perspectives of others.” Of course, this implies that the leader has facilitation skills, but I think these “staging” practices are key to administering conflict well.
It might sound a little strange, but I think the authors are right, that the very act of collectively creating rules of engagement is an act that brings a group of people together. However small, completing a task together can give a little boost of hope to an otherwise tension-filled situation.
I think the care with which these authors outlined practices and rationale for administering conflict is very helpful. I wish though they would have expanded the section on understanding your own style of conflict. Just as instances of congregational conflict are different, I would bet that each person internally engages and processes that conflict differently. But these two chapters were extremely helpful in my growing understanding of how to administer conflict and legal questions in a congregation, and I hope you read them too!
Assuming that you have worshiped at or served a congregation in moments of conflict, what wisdom would you pass onto your colleagues about conflict? In what way was conflict dealt with poorly? Was there a particular process or practice that your community used to move through conflict in a positive way?
In this fifth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about ministry teams and external relationships for congregations. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Ministry Teams: Teeming with Talent,” and “External Relationships: Loving Thy Institutional Neighbor” (pgs. 201-240) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.
I really enjoyed this week’s reading; I think partly because reading and writing has been a relatively relaxing activity compared to some other roles and projects I have been a part of in the last few days! I preached on Saturday and Sunday, and was the solo pastor out at my internship site’s second site 15 miles north of the main site in a more suburban/rural area.
Also, Saturday all day was our synod’s Educational Gathering, at which I assisted my husband’s workshop on social media, and led my own on “Being Lutheran in Today’s World.” I know, terribly broad topic, but we got through it—okay it actually went really well and the connections made in the room make me optimistic for how congregations and our wider church might celebrate and observe the 500th anniversary of the reformation come October 2017.
Speaking of connections, these two chapters, especially the second, are all about connections. The authors ground their argument for vibrant external organizational and church body relations by directing the reader to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a theologian, pastor, and founding member of the Confessing Church which protested against the Nazi party in the 1940’s. Nothing like bringing the heat by quoting Bonhoeffer! These authors don’t hold back. They write, “we cannot escape responsibility by asking questions about who is the neighbor [Luke 10:29]. The neighbor is at hand and far away. The neighbor’s presence (and need) breaks through our preoccupation with internal matters” (219).
True, this might sound a little trite, because ignoring internal matters may inhibit our capacity to serve our neighbors out there—but even then, I am making Bonhoeffer’s point for him. We are called to change “you” to “we,” “my” to “our,” and from “me” to “us.” Congregations maximize their efforts to serve their neighbor when they engage with external relationships, including institutional relationships (like synods, churchwide, non-profits, or for-profits with aligned values). When congregations engage with external relationships, new perspectives are gained, new questions arise, and possibilities to serve each other abound, knowing that we all have something to share [For a psych/social perspective, check out Robert Kegan]. At our synod’s Educational Gathering, we sang this hymn that has since rang in my ears, for better or worse:
Let us go now to the banquet, to the feast of the universe. The table’s set and a place is waiting; come, everyone, with your gifts to share.
The table is set and a place is waiting – come share your gift. Which, I know, the worst part of me wonders, “What kind of gift can they share?”
I guess what I’m trying to say is that when we open up ourselves to love and follow Jesus, we open ourselves to be changed by our neighbors, who also show us the face of Christ. Individual neighbors, external organizational relationships, institutional bodies, you name it. Engaging with external relationships open up a congregation to be changed. But isn’t that the posture in a weekly worship service? Don’t we confess our sin of being human, full of shame, pride, greediness, and ask for forgiveness that turns us radically outward to embrace and serve others? Don’t we pray in the Lord’s prayer “your [God’s] will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” a will that is not ours, but a will that is always is driving to change our hearts to be for the least of these and bring the good news of new life and everlasting life to every person whom we meet?
At the end of four steps to build external relationships (231-233), the authors end with the step of “involvement,” saying, “A warning: they will change your organization.” Now, I may or may not have let out a tiny gasp when I read that, honestly, “Oh no, is he talking about my church?” But how many times will we choose the posture “Not my church” instead of “Yes, Lord, my church!” I literally wrote this in the margin:
is for the
That last one was triple underlined, and think I’ve reached the edges of WordPress’ editing tools. Either way, believing in the good news, which the predicates sharing the good news, involves risk. It involves risking your identity because in some way you can and will be changed by the relationships you make with individual neighbors, communal neighbors, institutional bodies, and external groups.
I’m all for it, but I don’t have a congregation yet! Ask me in a year if I think this is a good risk, with a worth while opportunity cost (see Timothy, I’m learning economic words). I’m hopeful I will say “You betcha.” or “Yes, and I ask God to help and guide me,” or a simple, “Why didn’t I say yes earlier?”
In what ways are you connected beyond yourself to others? In what way is your church, or the church, connected beyond itself? Has this been a positive or negative thing? How does making connections open the door for change?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, enlarged ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 381-383.
In this fourth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about being like a “CEO” and communication. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Oversight (Being CEO) Is a Worthy Calling,” and “Communication: Ministry Means Messaging” (pgs. 143-199) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.
This past weekend I taught a new member’s class for the first time. We had about ten people made up of young families, couples old and young, and some on their own. I got to steward my experience from the last eight months of internship with a hope and a prayer, and hopefully I represented our congregation well.
Reflecting on it now, I know I want to share about all the wonderful stories I heard, thoughtful and open conversations we had on church, LGBTQIA, communion, and Theology on Tap, all the beautiful and broken people I met, and an ADORABLE infant who will be the youngest new member in the next couple months. But I truly want to stick to the administrative side of it. I don’t mean to paint “administration” and “human moments” as polar opposites. In fact I’m finding that they’re more intertwined than I thought.
This week Bacher and Cooper-White responded to 1st Timothy 3:1 by saying, “Such a ministry of oversight [someone trusted to lead a congregation or region], whether as bishop of a diocese or pastor of a congregation, inevitably includes administrative dimensions” (144). This is all too true. As with all pastoral interns, I came into a congregation with systems and a culture already in place, churning, and shaking. So when I asked our Office Administrator if I could make copies of the forms I knew we were going to have the new members fill out at the end of the evening, I saw that there was one that was used a while ago but hadn’t been brought out recently.
In the spirit of the old form, I created something new: “Harvesting of Gifts, Interests, Passions, and Growing Edges,” where you can find things like “Telling stories,” “Comforting people who are sad,” “Making people laugh,” and “Making breakfast,” to select under I enjoy/want to learn more about… The other column are options (strengths and talents) to check for If I were to guess, I think I am…
The form can’t be more than 20 lines long, but it gets people identifying their gifts and growing edges, while giving staff members a way to introduce and connect them with people at our church who can get a new person to feel like we’re their people, and they’re our people. Over half of the people there filled it out and I can’t wait to connect them with people who are experts at giving new folks opportunities to share, serve, be known, and feel like they belong.
Prepping the multi-media, scheduling guest speakers, making sure there was enough material for participants without killing too many trees, answering emails, coordinating with the Office Administrator to invite people, following-up with staff connectors, expressing thanks and asking for previous teaching content, crafting an agenda, making copies, playing with babies (ok maybe not the last one)–were all part of the administrative picture of this wonderful New Members class.
My role as facilitator, teacher, and pastor was to set the table; Bacher and Cooper-White write, “the way the table is set for a meeting will have a significant impact on its ultimate results” (169). I didn’t make the dinner, but I confirmed with the cook that we could squeeze in two more for dinner. We set out dark chocolate candies to hold people over for the dinner break an hour in to my presentation. But I also set the table by setting expectations and setting the space to maximize the learning and connection of the people gathered there.
I shared with them the objectives for the evening, why they were there, and what I wanted them to think and dream about together.
Believe it or not, this whole church thing isn’t 100% unchanging (!). God’s promises are unchanging, but the Holy Spirit has a funny way of blowing people in (and out of) communities and bringing with them (or leaving room for) new questions, new perspectives, new backgrounds, and new pairs of lens with which we read the Bible and the world. I hope I established a space to share how our church is sensing God’s call, and also invited these new members to imagine how their presence and new contribution might enrich this congregation’s response to God’s call and vision for this church. I’m grateful for the staff people that supported me in this teaching, and I’m excited for more opportunities to engage with ministry and administrative tasks in new and creative ways!
Is there a particular class, activity, service, or project that you facilitate regularly that engages in administrative tasks that enrich that experience for your participants? Or do these administrative tasks do the opposite? What’s a way that you engage in administrative tasks with joy and gratitude?
In this third week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about finances and budgets. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Budgets and Balance Sheets: Deeply Doctrinal Documents” and “Raising the Resources: Theology Talks and Money Matters!” (pgs. 93-142) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.
I don’t know why, but I was tickled pink when I read this quote, this urging, in chapter five:
“…treat budgets and finance as ways to get there, that is, a means to mission fulfillment” (95).
Dear reader, this week we are encouraged to think of budgets and finances as a way to close the gap between the present and the day when our community’s mission is realized, when “we’ve made it.” The budget is a tool to make that mission come alive; with budget and finances we, the church, are granted the opportunity to make a difference in the world as articulated in our church’s mission statement. It can happen. Missions can be fulfilled. Missions can come alive. Missions can change the world. Finances and budgets help us close the gap between today and the day that a mission is realized.
I’m pretty sure this is not how many congregations understand their finances. I’m pretty sure they understand them like this, like how I understand them way too often, which is through a series of fear-based, lacking-in-peace questions:
Are we in the red or the black this month?
Did we get enough money in the last month?
Will we have enough to pay off the mortgage/this month’s electricity bill/pay for the bulletin paper/[insert your favorite financial anxiety question here]?
This got me thinking: What if during an annual meeting, the budget and finances were talked about in terms of the fulfillment (& projection of fulfillment) of particular goals or the congregation’s overall mission?
I feel like that would lead to a whole different kind of annual meeting. If I’m being frank, that’s the kind of annual meeting I would want to go to.
I’m discovering that this kind of financial planning has a name: narrative budgets. Grace Duddy Pomroywrites that a narrative budget, “tells the story of the congregation’s mission and ministry, connecting every aspect of the budget to it.” I get the sense that a line-item budget can be partnered with this approach, but narrative budgets frame financial planning differently all together.
I’m sure I’m in a dreaming space that people fall into before they step into a first call, but think about it. In fact, look at it: Here are examples, and I like this one in particular.
Not to toot my own horn, but the part of me that designed the Storytellers curriculum is REALLY into these narrative budgets. When you get to run Storytellers in a small group, or a larger web of small groups, you end up strengthening a community’s understanding of how God’s story is speaking through their story and values. I think, ultimately, that’s what congregations’ annual meetings, and their material, try to achieve.
Each individual in a congregation is not on an island of spirituality and Jesus-living. We are connected as one body of Christ, and as God works through us, we get to honor and co-create with God the next chapter of our congregation’s story. Even a single congregation’s story is bigger than that congregation (See Matthew 1)!
I think that’s how narrative budgets nail it on the head for me. When budgets are the “why” of “Why we need to hold an annual meeting,” our actions show that our ultimate trust and love is in money. But when you can show the story through pictures, video and/or art of the moments when money made possible a moment of the Kingdom of God breaking through – then you have a story, a narrative, that speaks to radical Spirit of God that powers, changes, and uplifts the mission, the “why,” partly made possible by the “how”: the budget and financial ministry of a congregation.
Do you have experience with narrative budgets? How is it going? Did you walk with a congregation through a transition to using a narrative budget and how did that go? I am curious how others have interacted with this, or church budgets in general, in their congregation.
Bacher and Cooper-White explain that the role of the pastor is to be an interpreter. Interpret the budget as a means, or the “how” to the “why” of the congregation (it’s mission). I’m sensing that there is a prime opportunity to not only strengthen and clarify the financial ministry of the congregation, but keep accountable and imagine big about what a congregation’s mission is. Now I understand why Luther Seminary’s class on finances is called “Money and Mission.” When they are aligned, there’s no other way to understand God’s grace, love, and gifts other than abundant.
I’ll end with this quote from Bacher and Cooper-White: “What is budget and finance stuff? Busy work or a way to serve?” (96). As tough as it is, I sure hope it’s the later.
In this second week of learning about church administration, I read about boards, governance and planning. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on chapters 3 and 4 of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.
There was a great deal of helpful and practical content in this section on a variety of topics: the role of a council, its theological foundation, how to call and orient new members, how to manage risk and conflict, how to have good meetings, and how to keep on track.
As I read through these sections, I recalled specific situations and people from my congregation currently, but also churches in the past; good and not so good situations.
On page 55, Bacher and Cooper-White articulate the need for the chair (or president) of a council to draw from the quieter members who otherwise don’t speak up very often in meetings. Likewise they also encouraged the chair to intermittently, especially during discussion on “hot” issues, to do a “round table” and ask for the thoughts and/or questions of each council member before proceeding with more formal discussion or decided-upon action through a vote. Using a reference such as Robert’s Rules of Order is helpful to keep meetings moving, but the authors warned to avoid “heavy-handed legalistic meeting conduct.” At a previous congregation, I observed that one council member in particular was helpful with referring back to Robert’s Rules of Order when the meeting got stuck. She was outspoken and confident, helpful but also made me nervous.
I couldn’t help but listen to the question rolling around in my head as I read these chapters:
How do you trust people to be leaders and bring their expertise and gifts…and trustthem?
I could take on all the work myself… I could waste time searching for sixty name tags instead of asking my co-worker where the box is. I could cold-call dozens of people to help with my project instead of asking my co-worker for a list of her all-star adult volunteers. I could plan for five hours of large-group teaching content about vocation instead of having students learn about vocation by also serving and talking with a trusted adult.
These are some of the administration-related questions that surfaced during my internship project a few months ago. I had a dream that students and adults could discover and feel affirmed in their vocations by learning together, serving together, and debriefing together over 5 weeks. There were (and still are) 30 students. So with my 30 mentors, that’s 60 individuals’ contact information (& parents’ email addresses), schedules, assessment results, assessment codes, and booklets to track, manage, and somehow get into a tidy bin for the confirmation pastor at the end of five weeks to demonstrate their learning.
How do you trust people to be leaders and bring their expertise on a board, on a council, or for an internship project?
I’m still not completely sure, but I think it has to do something with this: It’s not about making people do things for you, it’s about seeing and pointing out an opportunity for that person to try out a gift that you’ve seen in them over and over again.
I’m so lucky to be in this work, because when I hear that someone at church is really into mentoring, and wishes that our church was more into mentoring, I can tap on their shoulder and say “Hey, I heard that you were really into mentoring, and I could use someone with your passion and presence as I try out this project for a couple weeks, could you help me?”
As an intern, I’m probably doe-eyed thinking that all things governance and administration can be significantly altered if we just identify and invite people into opportunities. Rather than the bulletin announcement, “NEEDED: 1 council member,” maybe it’s a tap on the shoulder that affirms someone’s quiet but persistent leadership, and without that tap on the shoulder, they would have never known they had that gift, or a gift.
Has there ever been a time when it was necessary to trust another leader and it was tough to do? Was there ever a time you trusted a leader with a responsibility, volunteer or otherwise, and they betrayed your trust? Why do you think it’s so hard to trust others and delegate responsibility? What are the gifts of trusting others with responsibility?
You can’t see it here, but after I read this paragraph I wrote in the margin “anxious,” boldly underlined. Church, why do you require so much effort in areas that I’m not very good at? In Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White, we read how the burgeoning church, just decades after Jesus’ resurrection, responded to the call to follow Jesus by engaging in these administrative efforts:
establishing and managing volunteers
creative communication (no cell towers or phones)
reconciliation among congregations
“[preserving] of the church as a Christian institution”
Oh boy. How is an ordained person, who often is one of two or less paid staff in the average ELCA congregation, supposed to do all that?
This is, of course, where I started. In a panic, thinking that I needed to gather all the information I could on a topic that I don’t have much strength in, so I can “do it all” and “be it all” to my future first congregation (God willing, I will be in a first call soon after internship). #superpastor (yes, I will reflect on my reflection).
If you know me at all, you know that I function from and believe in serving from a strengths-based place. God made and makes us all loved and worthy children of God who each have a unique set of experiences, stories, backgrounds, gifts and strengths (Luke 10:27). So why do we waste so much time fixing or filling the holes of places that we aren’t as good in, rather than asking for help and giving family, friends, congregants, or our fellow humans the opportunity to serve and lead from their strengths too?
I told my internship supervisor about this hidden assumption of mine. As I learn (and experience) my assumptions and questions on internship, we thought this was the best topic for my last class, a .5 online independent study with a hilarious, creative, and un-bounded vision caster for the church and the world, Dr. Terri Elton. So, I’m studying church administration. I will be walking through our main text, Church Administration, two chapters a week and interviewing church administrators along the way. I will post my weekly reflections here. I’m excited to book-learn and church-learn in my internship context, and I hope you also contribute in the comments on your contextual learning and questions. I have a feeling I’m not alone in my wondering about how to engage with administration while keeping myself from the temptation of doing it all myself.
Because here’s my starting point; my starting hunch (I know, hundreds of words later, but I’m getting there; you made it here, I’m proud of you!). Church administration is not something to visit or revisit only at times of crisis. It’s a red thread that is woven through every small group, every worship service, every quilters’ group, every late night council meeting, every community meal, and every staff and non-staff’s service experience.
This is in everything. All the time.
And this isn’t something to panic about, like when you first learned about germs as a 1st grader; aahhhhh they’re everywhere! It’s something to reorient as a ministry alongside other ministries in a congregation. Bachor and Cooper-White explain that “administration” comes from the Latin ad + ministrare, meaning literally “one who ministers to.” To me, this means the ministries of a church are literally arranged and managed by those gifted in counting, governing, planning, and doing other administration-y things. These people are ministers.
“…[the] one whose work is primarily administrative is no less a faithful servant than those who mostly preach, teach or counsel…it is time for the church to reclaim the holiness of vocations that involve a major measure of administrative work” (vii).
This work, the behind-the-scenes of work of budgets, money, supervising, and schedules is holy work. This work is done by specific people in a congregation, but it’s also work that each leader does a little (or a lot) of in their role. In both ways, we’re reminded that all of our contributions are significant as we are each ministers, and part of the priesthood that God calls us to be (1st Peter 2:9).
You might be thinking, “Allison, but you went to school for and will make an awesome pastor-minister person! How can we all be ministers if you’re the minister?”
Good question. It’s both. A congregation has a minister or ministers (some have a synodically-authorized one if they’re tight on cash), and we’re all ministers. Those who are ordained in the ELCA administer communion and baptism and preach, and are in a separate space (or “office,” like the office of the president or the office of a superintendent) and get compensated. Those who aren’t ordained (or who aren’t on staff) don’t get paid by the congregation/synod/community. There are other distinctions between ordained ministers and all other ministers (everyone else, as we’re all called and children of God), but the point is that this concept is not black and white. If you’re reading this, looking back at your phone or laptop screen, we’re the same and we’re not. All at the same time.
As you can see by all my parentheses in that paragraph, I’m not satisfied with my own answer, because to say “it’s a both and!” or “it’s just another Lutheran paradox!” is I think a cop-out. Are we the same or are we different? What is it? Where is the peace and justice in knowing that one of us gets all the Starbucks gift cards for our faithful public ministry, and one of us just doesn’t? (it always comes back to coffee, doesn’t it). We’ll leave this topic for another day. I can feel Terri looking at my word count so let’s move on, at least for now. Priesthood of all believers and ministers (the theme of), I’m coming back for you!
What I wanted to land on as I reflect on these first two chapters of Church Administration is that when a group of motivated people gather to serve and discern God’s call, administration is a pair of glasses that they need to wear in order to carry out that service and discernment effectively. Bacher and Cooper-White write that administration and governance are enacted, “when two or more persons engage in a common purpose” (1).
When two brains, or two hearts, or two strengths connect and say:
“Let’s try this new church thing.”
“What if we try this church thing like this?”
“I wonder what it would be like if we did church this way?”
…there is one purpose. There is a common purpose. Administration is a color in that new portrait of what the church looks like today. We could leave out that color, but we could be leaving out the color that ties all the rest of the colors together, or makes all the other colors work together. They just work.
I think Paul had this hunch about administration when he was first leading congregations who were sorting out what it meant to follow Jesus; a resurrected savior with an unpredictable, unbelievable story. How do you spread that message? How do you engage an entire community around a faith in Jesus that doesn’t peter out, but blazes a new path and direction in a world that is ripe with possibilities for new life, second chances, and new growth for all? That’s the urgency. That’s the call. So how does a congregation utilize the gift of administration as a red thread that helps us do our diverse ministry and work, and respond to God’s call most effectively?
That’s what I hope to learn more about in these six weeks with you. When was a time when you felt in over your head with administrative tasks (yes, “conflict” is a topic that will be explored in the weeks to come)? What pushed you to ask for help in administrative stuff, or what are you hoping to find help in, as an ordained, otherly-rostered or non-official pastor person, when it comes to administration?