Welcome to post number four of four for my independent study on adults and lifelong learning! I had a lot of fun collecting my thoughts and questions in my my first three posts on describing the current situation of adults in American life. All of this is heavily informed by Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.
To remind ourselves, these are the five ways of making meaning according to Robert Kegan, illustrated by PhD candidate Steve Thomason:
For this last week I’ll be exploring how to lead in a congregational context where I, as a pastor, might provide care for my people as a crisis occurs, knowing there are multiple ways of meaning-making represented in the congregation. In the pews are a diversity of theologies, values, family of origin stories, and ways of making meaning. Knowing this, it’s not our job as pastors to make sense to every single one of these people, but it’s our task to provide them with ways to make meaning as they sort out their worldview.
Please note that this post will be soaked in privilege as someone seeking ordination to be a pastor through earning a Master of Divinity. People who are not pastors are loved by God and have the capacity (and beyond) for the kind of leadership I’ll describe here. For the sake of making this an effective case study, I will focus on one specific kind of leadership (pastor) because I will be one (or at least hope to be one).
To make “the rubber hit the road” with these five ways of making meaning, I want to consider a case study, like a crisis a church might face. Unfortunately it’s a dark one, but we live in a dark world sometimes. One kind of crisis that is specific and unfortunately reoccurring are shootings nearby or on campuses of schools. Since Columbine, I think everyone has had the thought, “That would never happen here,” and then a shooting happens near your home or where you grew up.
As pastors, we’re called to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper/Twitter feed in the other hand. We’re called to care for people, not fix people. We’re called to co-lead and co-create, not dominate conversations, spaces, or worship leading. In my denomination (ELCA), pastors are often identified as those who focus on, “Word and Sacrament,” and maybe this is what people mean by “Word and Sacrament”: holding the sacred conversations, spaces, and writings (Word) while helping others see God showing up in the tangible realities of our daily lives (Sacrament).
So what does it look like for a pastor to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper/Twitter feed in the other? What does it look like to care for people, and co-lead/co-create with them when a school shooting happens in their community, knowing that multiple levels of consciousness/meaning-making are represented in their congregation and surrounding community?
In one way, I’ve actually done this before. On the evening of the April 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, I was working the front desk of my residence hall at Pacific Lutheran University. I gathered together other campus leaders and staff to put on a candlelight vigil and about 100 people came from campus and the community. It mattered to me that people had a place to go if they were scared, angry or lonely.
I thought about softening the blow with a nice, kind Bible verse. But the kind of response required to a school shooting needs to be precipitated by community relationships, emotional competency by the congregation, and serving our neighbors together, as church people and non-church people. This “prep” and the response itself is a challenge and almost unimaginable how such a feat might be met. I’m guessing it has been a struggle for pastors in the past. It will be a challenge for pastors in the future. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should shrink away from it. I think I’ll start there.
I think it wouldn’t be smart to hide. This is a time when it’s a blessing and a curse that part of the role of a pastor is to be a Christian public leader, emphasis on leader and public. I think holding community conversations (first agenda item: prayer) would be a wise and welcome move. Dispersing a survey on “what kind of education would you like to see or hear or learn from,” when really people are craving person-to-person conversation, would not be helpful. Not that I’ve ever been in this situation, nor wish to ever have to be in this situation. But that’s one thought.
People with 3rd order consciousness (see above video, from In Over Our Heads) see value in themselves as an individual, but have difficulty in seeing themselves as important to society. It would be easy for them to understand themselves as victims of these horrific crimes, or be anxious and anticipate themselves as being victims of future shootings. Shifting language from victim to survivor might be helpful, but that is how some (more than some) make meaning. In crisis mode, we either freeze with fear or we fight to make it right. Creating a structure to articulate our feelings and desires to help would be helpful especially for 3rd order thinkers.
And it’s not like those in 4th order (see above video) are doing much better. They see that our culture, community, or congregation is one among many cultures, communities, and congregations. Empathy might come from this, but also a feeling of helplessness. What can I do, if “that” culture of violence and hatred can terrorize “our” culture/community/congregation? This is of course facetious, because “that” culture is our culture. We are a culture that condones violence and racism and micro-aggressions against those at the margins, socially, racially, and economically.
These are just my initial thoughts, and I think they raise more questions than answers. Like, how to befriend the local law enforcement, school board, teachers, families and students. Much like other fields of work, I think congregational work is becoming more inter-disciplinary. But I think serving as a pastor in the midst of a crisis will be hard work, and I won’t know what all will be required until it happens. But building relationships with those around me as soon as I get to a place or setting and being centered in my own work and connection with God will be helpful and crucial.