Connections

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.

I'm not sure why, but this makes me think of reformation.

I’m not sure why, but this makes me think of reformation.

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:

[Star]

OH gosh.

Risk

is for the

sake of

the gospel?

Eek.

oh boy.

YAY

YEA.

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?

 

Source:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, enlarged ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 381-383.

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Adults and lifelong learning: expectations

So one of the exciting thing about designing your own independent study or learning experience, is that you have just as many printed words on a syllabus as you do pen-scribbled words.

I’ll be writing four reflections for Prof. Mary Hess on what I’ve learned from readings and experiences throughout the spring on adults and lifelong learning. We decided that using my blog to publish these learnings will: 1. make it fun, 2. generate a sense of collegiality, because friends in calls and jobs and are asking these questions too, & 3. help me remember what I learned after the class is done. First call pastors, synod staffers, congregational staff people, people in the pew, honestly my family members (hi mom & dad), students, seminary staff leaders – have all expressed a desire to learn too in this broad topic of adults and lifelong learning. So, are my first thoughts – reflection #1, guided by my reading of In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life by Robert Kegan out of Harvard.

The scribbled words on my syllabus (below) for the first reflection say, “What does learning look like for adults?” This is because Mary and I sat down with my drafted syllabus and realized that my initial “first reflection guiding question” was too detailed. I was going to ask “Why should church leadership coach adults to be learners/Why is lifelong learning important?”

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Yes, those are letters and words. Clear handwriting is not my forte.

You can’t really answer that unless you find out how adults learn. So that’s the first question. Here’s what I learned in reading the first 100 pages of Kegan’s book:

The environment in which adults learn is really complex and really heavy. Yes, In Over Our Heads is just over 20 years old. I was seven when this was published, and the expectations that our culture (Western American, middle class) has on adolescents specifically, not adults, are still very real:

– Employable

– A good citizen

– A critical thinker

– Emotionally self-reflective

– Personally trustworthy

– Possessed of common sense and meaningful ideals

Even the author says “This is a lot to want” (19).

Think about then the expectations that culture places on adults? I’m only a fourth of the way into the book, but I have a feeling that he will start to make the argument that the “training” or “instruction” that adults receive about how to be adults is not inadequate to meet the expectations that culture has on adults, and for what it means to be an adult.

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Kegan talks about personal development in terms of consciousness – not mental capacity or behavior (which are parts of consciousness) – there are first-fourth orders of consciousness. The first is very simplistic, linear thinking, and the fourth is when you are able navigate the complexities of being yourself and honoring the other, and at the same time maintaining boundaries. This is all in the realm of psychology which I’m not terribly familiar with, but that’s how I would summarize the framework he’s using. I believe he is trying to make the point that to meet the expectations that culture places on adults, adults must be functioning with a fourth-order consciousness.

I would argue that this is a really difficult and complex environment in which adults learn. Adults are expected, by culture, to communicate in various ways, to set limits, maintain boundaries, create and preserve roles, and exercise executive leadership (99).

So, where in there do adults find the space for listening and humility, crucial elements in learning, since to learn is to admit that you have something to learn, right? Perhaps listening and humility is implied in these cultural expectations. That’s the next question I would ask to the author – and honestly to anyone whose interested in this too. How do adults learn about new things, especially things that help them maximize their strengths or grow their vocation as leader/servant – and at the same time meet the needs that our culture expects of them?

Honestly, I read these few chapters and I got stressed out. Now that I’m an adult I have to do all this stuff? I have to maintain boundaries, communicate, preserve roles, etc.? Oh my goodness!

It also made me wonder: What is the list we all silently carry around of things we expects adult to do/be? What do we expect of our colleagues? Of our empty-nester parents? Of our pastors? Or our for profit people or non-profit people? I’m guessing that others might read this and panic too, thinking, “I don’t do all those things!!” So maybe a take-away is that we’re all under that cultural pressure. None of us are immune to the expectations of our culture – and at the same time we can feel comfort knowing we are not alone. That’s the good news I see in this. That adults are under similar cultural expectations – none “bad” or “good” – and we can empathize with each other and know that we’re all together.

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Well, in an ideal world. That’s a good thought. Does it actually happen? Are there communities where adults lift each other up and say, “I’ve been there too, and you can totally maintain healthy boundaries too.” Where might that comradary be? What might that look like? What does it look like – is there a place or group that empathizes together as adults come together to support each other in the cultural expectations that are placed on them?

Adults are under a lot of cultural expectations. But I think we can shape our response (not reaction) to those expectations with care and with each other. Kegan brings the challenges and dynamics of this to light and I’m glad to have him as a companion, if only in text, in this journey of learning about adults and their lifelong learning.