Monday, December 15, 2008

The Merits of Being a Good Slacker

I believe it was Martin Luther King who said "all that it takes for evil to flourish is for good to do nothing." Yesterday afternoon I really struggled with the whole notion of doing nothing. By the time I got home from church the snow was basically scrapping the bottom of my poor little Prius and it was clear that we would not be going out gain until the plows came through. On the one hand this was perfect, the Vikings were playing a late football game and Marianne and I had been meaning to finish decorating our tree for two weeks. Now we finally had time on Sunday to do everything we needed to do. Yet inspite of this it was hard to escape a feeling of guilt at sitting there and doing nothing. As 5 pm rolled around, the time for our evening worship service, I found myself second guessing myself on calling it off. Rationally it was easy to point to the snow which had only recently paused in its falling, and the rapidly dropping temperatures as good reasons NOT to have worship that evening, but still there was part of me that felt the church should be open, worship should be happening, just in case somebody wanted to come.

I think pastors are one of many people who struggle with doing nothing. I think we struggle with the doing nothing because we have a feeling there is always something we could be doing. Even when we are given meteorogically enforced times of Sabbath it is hard to take them. It may actually be a reason I like things like shovelling. When I shovel I know basically when I am done. It is possible to do a good job and a bad job of shovelling, but generally when you shovel it is clear when you are done and easy to keep working until you are. Being a pastor is one of many jobs that is never really done. Not only is the work constant but there are not even clear business hours to do that work in. I am not complaining, because actually I think I function fine in the environment in general, but for that one challenge, even a slacker like me feels guilty when I am doing nothing.

Maybe that is why God wasted one of the Ten Commandments on Sabbath, because God realized that as simple as it sounds, taking time off was going to be just as hard as not lying, swearing, or covetting what other people have. I guess maybe my resolution for the New Year may just need to be working on taking time off when I get the chance, not feeling guilty about spending a few hours in idleness, enforced externally or personally.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Business models in a church world

One thing I really struggle with in the church is the yin-yang relationship I trend to have with business models. Part of me sees them as good, but in the midst of their goodness I see some thing that is wrong. Other times I look at them and see the bad side, but even then I see the speck of the good. One of the things that I keep thinking about is how helpful it would be to have people with a business mindset helping to work on new models for how we can build sustainable small churches. The reality of small communities is that they cannot always sustain the one-size-fits-all style of churches we tend to encourage in the UMC Discipline and in the general practice of the United Methodist Church. Smaller size is often seen as a negative because it implies a failure to grow and evangelize but for some contexts and styles of ministry it is truly appropriate. If we are willing to accept small churches as valid at their present size, and not simply stress the need for growth we need to look serisouly at how to staff them with the clergy they need to thrive and yet be financial stable. One answer that seems so simple to me is to develop some new models for how churches can function and have a level of economic stabilty, rather than be constantly needing support from the annual conference in order to maintain the pastor they need to continue to thrive. But that is where the yin rears its head in the midst of the yang, or the other way around, I can never remember which one is which. It is easy to say we need new models to give to our local churches but will the local churches accept them. The challenging thing in applying business models to churches is that churches do not have the same purpose as a business, which is to make money. A church needs some sense of financial stability but its underlying purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When people invest in a congretion they do not do so for monetary return but instead for something else, something emotional and spiritual. Do business models work if financial gain is not the primary benefit? Do business models help when the people applying them have other desires? I want to thinkthat business can teach us a lot about how we can change the church to function better, but then I keep getting hung up on the reality that the church is not a business and does not always function best when run like one.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Challenges of Leading "Contemporary" Worship

Who is to blame, the Chicken or the Egg? Whose fault is it that I find myself lacking good new music for Christmas and particular Advent that works well for a praise band? Is it the fact that deep down we are all traditionalists and do not believe you can do better than Silent Night on Christmas Eve, which I would agree with, and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel during Advent? We have a lot of great traditional music for Advent and Christmas so maybe there is simply not the market for new music for these seasons, even music that fits the instruments and emotions of a new generation. I would argue we have great Easter music too, and yet that does not stop artists from coming up with new ways to sing about the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Christ. In fact without singing about those things lot of newer Christian music would not exist. So maybe it is a theology problem, most new Christian artists have been raised in more conservative evangelical churches that focus much more on the resurrection of Christ than on Christ's life. For this reason they are inspired more by his death and therefore compelled to sing more about that aspect of his ministry. Maybe theology is more the reason for the lack of music than market need/interest.

To add one final question to the puzzle, can good music not only inform, but also help create good theology. Maybe good theology is too loaded a word, but I would argue that a theology of Christ needs to be balance between Christmas and Easter and that Christ was born to more than just die. So if we had bands singing more songs about Christ's birth in the language and style that resonates in evangelical, Easter-oriented churcches would that help to shape their theology in new ways. Even if there is not a need in more main-line traditional churches to redo or attempt to replace some of the classics this time of year, for the sake of theological diversity and growth, do we need more Christmas songs that appeal to the same people who love songs with a more Easter theme to them? What do we fix first, the chicken or the egg? Do we try and change musicans first or the culture? How does a praise and worship service celebrate Christmas?