The perfect storm and the deathly ill denomination

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In Wolfgang Peterson’s 2000 movie The Perfect Storm a fishing boat gets caught in, well, the perfect storm which is actually a sort of super storm produced by the collision of three smaller storms.

The same sort of thing is happening in the Presbyterian Church USA. At least three “storms” are coming together to produce an amazing opportunity for something new in what has been called a deathly ill denomination.

The three “storms” I mentioned above are:

  • The amendment (10-A) of the Constitution of the PCUSA to remove explicit language about ordained officers being required to live in fidelity in the bounds of marriage and in chastity when not married. This move potentially opens the door to practicing homosexual officers although a church court case (argued tomorrow) will offer the denomination the chance to say that removing explicit language in the Constitution does not have the effect of silencing the witness of Scripture and the Confessions on human sexuality.
  • The New Form of Government (nFOG). The Church voted to adopt a new form of government that provides considerably more flexibility in the ways church courts relate to one another. In effect it pushes much authority and responsibility further down line to presbyteries and sessions. I voted against the nFOG on the basis of it’s propensity to be used to create a local option for liberal churches and presbyteries to ordain LGBT candidates, but it’s also true that a local option can allow evangelical churches greater freedom to follow Christ in fidelity to the Scriptures and Confessions.
  • Post-Christendom/Post-Denominational era. This is like a meta-storm or meta-category to denote the shift away from Christianity as a dominant force in majority culture (i.e., the values of Christianity are no longer the assumed way) a shift that has effectively reduced the importance of denominations.
Jim Singleton (Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs) recently gave a talk about the emergence of The Fellowship, a conversation aimed at finding a new way forward for evangelical Presbyterians who are part of the PCUSA. The audio is available here.
It seems that the way forward is for the Fellowship to serve as umbrella over lots of enterprises (marked by shared core values), a sort of missional order in the PCUSA. There would be not expectation that this order would be working to renew or change the denomination, but instead would be a part of the life of the PCUSA and a witness to the flourishing effect of biblical theology in the life of the church.
Some highlights:
    • The Fellowship will allow churches and/or individual pastors to join.
    • It could take various forms:
      • Non-geographic presbyteries. This will be tough to implement because it would require a change to the Book of Order, even with nFOG.
      • Parallel COMs (if presbytery allows: one for 10-A and non-10-A). This is less optimal although it is easier to implement – the presbyteries would remain as they are, but with parallel tracks for 10-A and non 10-A churches.
      • Two presbyteries in the geographic bounds of a single presbytery. the Book of Order requires 10 churches in order to form a new presbytery.
      • New Reformed Body – something new but with a relationship with the PCUSA. This would be the creation of something like a new denomination.
        • Provision for dually-aligning with PCUSA and another denomination
        • Possibility of being affiliate member of your local presbytery and the Fellowship or a New Reformed Body.
As you can see there are a lot of possibilities for a new way forward in the PCUSA, more than there ever have been thanks to both the passage of nFOG and to the growing realization around the denomination that the age of big, bureaucratic, Christendom-model denominations is over. The fact that there are “for rent” signs in front of the PCUSA office complex in Louisville is something of a visual representation of this new reality.
I’m hopeful that a new, faithful way forward can be found that will avoid a complete denominational split and will avoid compromising the consciences of the majority of church members who favor the church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality in the midst of a culture for whom the church seems increasingly irrelevant.
The answer to this perception is living out the Gospel in fidelity to the Scriptures and Confessions and in a way that incarnates this in a missional way for people who view the church as a form that is marginal to their life.

Why do you work?

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In her essay entitled, “Why Work?” Dorothy L. Sayers writes a scathing critique of the West (specifically, England). Her words were written during the Second World War when all of England was experiencing what might be called drastic shortages of certain food stuffs.

Sayers points out that all industrial capitalist economies are based on consumption. That is to say, there is no market for goods and services except that there are parties who wish to consume (i.e., use) these goods or services. I might attempt to go into business as a physic advertizing that I can achieve wonderful results for sufferers of the gout by treating it with leaches and blood-letting. Despite my not having consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I am fairly willing to say that there is not a strong market for this sort of thing. There are no consumers.

The central point of her critique is that consumer capitalism erodes the Christian doctrine of vocation. Why? Sayers claims that the advent of modern capitalism has produced jobs rather than vocations (“callings”). The industrial revolution provided massive increases in the efficiency of labor. By dividing labor tasks (i.e., conveyor-belt) the production of goods could be radically increased. The problem? Increased efficiency in production is negligible apart from a similar increase in demand for said goods. If there is no corresponding increase in demands then the price of the goods falls.

The result of these advances was the removal of the worker from the creation of an item/product. In other words where once the same wheelwright was responsible for the creation of a wheel from start to finish, now one person treats the wood, another steams and shapes it, another makes the spokes, another forges the iron band, another markets and another delivers it. The division of labor here can drastically increase the number of wheel produced, but at what cost to the worker?

Sayers critique is based upon a couple of presuppositions. The first is that each individual is called to a vocation and that this vocation must be morally good, creative, constructive, and provide fulfilment to that person. [By this logic, no one is called to the vocation of tele-marketer.] Second, this vocation is one of the chief purposes of this person’s life and therefore, in Sayers’ mind, “we live to work rather than work to live.” She has no time for, indeed she claims it is sub-Christian, to work simply for the purpose of getting a pay check.

At the time of writing this essay, massive amounts of money were being spent on the war in Europe. Sayers poses the question, will the material sacrifices made during the war endure when the war ends? If anything, the war proved that “man does not live by bread alone.” Even with very little affluence, comfort, or luxury, the British people managed to live good lives. Of course, the war itself was serving as the chief consumer at the time, and the majority of businesses (public and private) were directed at providing products useable in that market.

Of course, we know now that the Post-War Western hemisphere has plunged headlong into the type of consumption that Sayers decried in Pre-War Europe. Does capitalism then actually improve lives? Does technology actually make humanity more contented? This is, of course, difficult to gauge. However, I will concede the point to Sayers that the world would be a better place if there were more artists–those who work because they must, not simply to get paid. Of course, given that I am writing this in a coffee shop on a notebook computer with a wireless card shows that I enjoy consuming plenty of goods and services!

There are many people who work simply to get a pay check. Perhaps they need not do this. Perhaps they grow accustomed to the comfort of a certain (or at least relatively certain) amount of money coming into their checking account each month. They could do otherwise, but over time they give up on their dreams.

It is, perhaps, here that Entrepreneurs can teach us (and Sayers) something. At the start, the only reason to start a company is because you believe in it (unless you are a fraud). When you’re working 60 hours-a-week for next to nothing, you are building the character and discipline that will regulate you when the profits begin. Entrepreneurs are artists. We can quibble about whether the services they provide are truly necessary/good/worthwhile (or whatever justification you might require for the consumption of a good or service), but most entrepreneurs believe in what they’re doing. It’s encouraging to know that from a Christian perspective, entrepreneurship can be a virtuous vocation.

So, why do you work? Is there something else you’d be doing if you didn’t have to get a paycheck? 

Leading in crisis – 3 responses

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One of the tests of a leader is how she responds to a challenging situation or a crisis. Without going into a large amount of detail, I think it’s safe to say that what is currently happening in the Presbyterian Church USA qualifies as a challenging situation (at least) or (at worst) a crisis. Ministers and churches across the country are being forced to have difficult conversations about our relationship to the denomination of which we are a part.

This sort of difficult situation provides a unique opportunity for growth both in the life of the individual Christian and in our life together as a congregation. It is also a particularly critical juncture for ministers since it provides a really strategic opportunity to teach on doctrine and the deepest values of the church.
Of course, one of the particular challenges of wise leadership is waiting upon God in the midst of a pressure situation so as to be able move forward with integrity. This is quite difficult when and if you find yourself in a situation where there is not consensus. In a situation like that, a good leader will discern whether she needs to move forward and if she does, will take point in guiding the church.
In our current denominational troubles, I have identified at least three common responses from clergy regardless of their theological identity as tradition/conservative or progressive/liberal:
  • The “let’s keep our focus local” response.
  • The “ignore it and it’ll go away” response.
  • The “for better or worse, let’s engage it” response.
“Let’s keep our focus local” – This sounds like wisdom, but it can be the product of an unhealthy sense of congregational identity and priority. As presbyterians our connection to other churches and ministers through presbyteries and other church courts isn’t incidental. Scripture witnesses that we are part of a single church sharing in the mission of expressing the Gospel through our worship and work. It can be easy for ministers to think that their church is the center of the universe, but in reality we have a vowed duty to protect the peace, unity, and purity of the church. We cannot set that aside for the seeming nobility of a local work. By failing to lead in the context of the conflict at hand, you are actually weakening your congregation by failing to disciple church members in important issues that they face as followers of Christ in 2011.
“Ignore it and it will go away” – This is inexcusable. If it goes away it will go away in the same way that “marriage issues” go away for a husband and wife who decide the fighting is just too much and decide to simply coexist in shared space because the other thing that’s too much is the trouble of a divorce. This type of lack of leadership kills the heart of a pastor and kills the heart of a congregation because it creates a void where there should be biblically-shaped conviction.
“For better or worse, let’s engage it” – The road of sustained engagement is difficult and long. It often involves misunderstanding and requires an amazing amount of discipline and wisdom, two things that are in seeming short supply today. I say “for better or for worse” because there are no guarantees about how conflicts will shake out. A pastor may lead her congregation only to find that they feel called one way and she feels called the other. There may be significant disagreement in the congregation that exerts a terrible toll on the minister. There may also be a renewed sense of shared mission, a longing to see God’s leadership in the midst of difficulty, a deepening sense of prayer and dependence upon God.
There’s no guarantee that doing the right thing will produce a happy, prosperous life. There is. however, a promise that God will honor the faithfulness of his servants.

Managing yourself

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Your toughest leadership challenge is always yourself. – Bill Hybels

Managing yourself is the most important thing you do. It’s true whether you’re a minister, CEO, professor or student. Many of us show up to work each day with a diffuse list of responsibilities and fairly significant amount of control over our calendar (unless you’re a doctor or a lawyer at trial). How are you going to use the 8-10 hours ahead of you? What about your hours outside of the the office? Are you living the values you most deeply cherish? Is you pattern of life moving you toward (or away from) meaningful goals and desires you have for your life?

Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself — your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you “work for” to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms “work for” advisedly, for if you don’t understand that you should be working for your mislabeled “subordinates,” you haven’t understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

Dee Hock

It’s amazing to me that formal education (at least when I was in college and seminary) gives very little attention to what is a critical factor for effectiveness both in the workplace and at home. That’s why I was so jazzed that InterVarsity’s Area Director Training had a session on self-management led by Red River Regional Director Jason Thomas.

One of the most significant lessons that I took away from our time together was in the way I allocate my time as a ministry leader. Here’s a list of key constituencies in my work. To the right is suggested allocation of time based on the work of Dee Hock and in brackets is the percentage of time I allocated to each group.

  • Supervisor – 30% [25%]
  • Peers – 15% [15%]
  • Donors [15%]
  • Self – 40% [33%]
  • Supervisees – 15% [12%]
To some, allocating 40% of your time to managing/leading yourself might seem a lot. At least according to Hoc, it depends on your level in an organization. The higher your position of leadership in an organization the greater the amount of time you need to spend leading yourself. It may ever go above 40%. The reason for this, of course, is that the higher you are the fewer sources of real accountability you have in your work and the smaller the number of defined objectives that come with your job description (senior leaders are the one defining objectives, after all).
So what does this look like for ministers? I came up with a list of ways in which I could effectively manage myself as I work as an Area Director:
  • Annual planning (especially mapping out travel days)
  • Creating an ideal week
  • Weekly review
  • Creative thinking
  • Reading books
  • Consulting with a mentor
  • Spiritual retreat
  • Theological study
  • Peer visits
  • Sabbath
  • Community groups
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Podcasts (Harvard Business Review, Mars Hill audio journal)
The thing each of these items has in common is that it offers the chance to pull away from the “runway level” of work and life in order to get a better perspective in terms of direction and purpose. Spending more time in self-management will ensure growth in the right direction and increasing effectiveness. So while it might seem odd to reserve only 15% of time for the folks on your team, spending more time in self-management will guarantee that you actually have something worth saying when you talk with them by phone or meet in person!

How to tell if you’re really human

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One of the myths of our contemporary culture, beyond perpetual youth, is that of unlimited capacity. Maybe I’m just getting older, but I find that one of the elements of modern life that is profoundly inimical to real spiritual health is busyness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily talking solely in terms of how much you are doing. It’s quite possible to do very little and still be busy. Busyness is a state of mind and of soul as much as it is a condition of the calendar.

To be really human means to have limits. One of those limits is to our capacity for unceasing labor, mental or otherwise. If you find yourself persistently busy, ask yourself: am I failing to acknowledge my creatureliness?

If the answer is yes. Take steps to correct your tendency, perhaps by mapping out your week so that you intentionally make time for all of those important things as well as the urgent.

You might also introduce the spiritual discipline of regular periods of prayer throughout your day as a way to reconnect with God and move into a greater sense of peace as you go about the work God has given you.