Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Conflict and church communities

I often hear people refer to a congregation as a "church family." For some that may conjure feelings of security, belonging, or being with like-minded people. For others, the word, "family" brings up a lot of other issues that may not be very affirming.

Entire careers have been spent researching and analyzing family systems and their impact on congregations. Congregations do act like a family, for better and for worse.

That's why, when conflict arises, we seem to react in a similar way that we would with members of our own family. Some of us can have an open discussion in a positive way. Some of us will talk to everyone except those they have a problem with. And some will just avoid the conflict altogether and pretend everything is just fine.

It's not that conflict is necessarily bad. Some things need to be challenged. "The way we've always done things before" is one of those things that could probably use a challenge.

It's how we handle conflicts when they arise that can show how things can be worked through in a church community. It is our responsibility to speak out when wrongs have been done and when others have not be treated in a spirit of love or concern. How we treat each other when there is conflict says a lot about us as a church community. Unfortunately, many of us have no idea that how we relate to our family of origin is often how we treat other similar "families." And so we don't always keep Christ in our relations - turning the other cheek, loving our neighbor, and forgiving seventy times seven. We act out the script we've been using all along and wondering why conflict seems to follow us.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Can't we all just get along?

One of the biggest things that drive people away from church is conflict. Sure, there's conflict just about everywhere, but when church is trying to hold up the vision that "another world is possible," it's hard to hear the message when that's not what's being demonstrated. Some may believe that of all places where conflict would not be expected is church.

Many seek refuge in church, in a worship or an educational experience that may show us the better side of humanity. A chance to getaway from the difficult relationship, the unfulfilling job, or the seeking for something more to life. And what do they find?

Actions speak louder than words...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Just Hanging On

Drive through any small town and you'll find a handful of church buildings. Some are in good repair, some are closed, and many are just hanging on.

Often the ones that look good and are well used are those that are more Evangelical in their views. They are building gymnasiums and educational wings while the others are struggling to keep the doors open.

Here's a radical thought. Bring together those congregations that "feel" most alike in the small town. Chances are, everyone either already knows each other or is probably related. Instead of pouring tens of thousands of dollars times three or four in to three or four different buildings, decide on one and maintain that one well. Let the ELCA, the Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ share the building and the expense. Think of the money that could then be used for the real mission of the church, not maintaining a building. And, maybe, just maybe, they could even worship together once in a while.

Where Have All the Pastors Gone?

One of my best friends celebrated her 20th ordination anniversary this summer and remarked how very few of her seminary classmates were still in ministry. Where have they gone and why did they leave? The seminary pastor seems to be an endangered species. More mainline denominations are licensing lay pastors who are leading congregations in areas where it is difficult to attract a pastor. My experience has been that many of these pastors are as "real" if not better than their more highly educated counterparts.

We spend a lot of time thinking about reaching out to new members, those who may have some experience with "church" and those who have never been. While that is important, it is also important to consider that there seem to be fewer good pastors to go around. What are we doing to support good pastors in a career that is challenging (to put it mildly) and to have the guts to tell others who believe they are good ministers that their gifts may lie elsewhere.

In this time of declining attendance in mainline congregations, increasing attention to the televangelists and their gospel of prosperity, it is time for the church to pay attention to the decline of ordained clergy and to support and nurture those who are challenging their congregations to dream new dreams. For the church to continue to be relevant, we must identify and cultivate strong pastoral leadership. Or we must put "great pastors" on the endangered species list.