leadership

Three Monks and One Sees

Benedicta Ward’s book has this story:

There were three friends, serious men, who became monks. One of them chose to make peace between men who were at odds, as it is written, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matt. 5:9). The second chose to visit the sick. The third chose to go away to be quiet in solitude. Now the first, toiling among contentions, was not able to settle all quarrels and, overcome with weariness, he went to him who tended the sick, and found hims also failing in spirit and unable to carry out his purpose. So the two went away to see hims who had withdrawn into the desert, and they told him their troubles. They asked him to tell them how he himself had fared. He was silent for a while, and then poured water into a vessel and said, ‘Look at the water.’ and it was murky. After a little while he said again, ‘See now, how clear the water has become.’ As they looked into the water they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. They he said to them, ‘So it is with anyone who lives in a crowd; because of the turbulence, he does not see his sins: but when he has been quiet, above all in solitude, then he recognizes his own faults.’

Today there are two major camps in the UMC. One claims the importance of peacemaking (Conservatives) while others are claiming the importance of tending to the sick (Liberals). Both camps have a good and Biblical claim on their task, and both are making good on the call. However, we now find ourselves in a bind where both camps are failing in spirit and there is such a turbulence in the Church. Neither camp sees the value of being quiet and still. Both camps are righteous in their cause and pouring water out, baptizing the work they do. Neither camp can see, as they churn up water, that we are drowning.

Photo by  Haley Phelps  on  Unsplash

The flailing and hand waving and crying out all is in an effort to ensure we can all stay a float through these troubled waters. It is the wisdom of the third monk that we need. The one who elevates silence, stillness, patience. Of course we do not give any merit to such posturing as it is seen as irrelevant and useless (all the while forgetting that Nouwen cautions us to the temptation of relevancy and that prayer is being “useless”).

And so what is the local church and church leader to do? How can we harness the wisdom of the third monk? Perhaps we can at least recall Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float.”

Church leaders, there is nothing wrong with the wisdom of the third monk. There is nothing wrong with stillness, waiting and trusting. There is nothing wrong with not doing “something”. There is nothing wrong with trusting in the buoyancy of God.

Is that not our call?

The Dawn of Vision and The Role of Pastor

Photo by  Karl Magnuson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash

There is a story about the nature of spiritual disciplines that goes something like this:

A student asked the teacher, “What effect do the spiritual disciplines have on gaining salvation?” The teacher said, “As much effect as you have on causing the sun to rise.” To which the student asked, “Then why practice the disciplines at all?” Looking to the east the teacher said, “So that we are awake to witness the sunrise.”

Too often we church leaders think that it is our job to “come up with the vision” of the church. And some might say this is true. I offer that it is not the leader that comes up with the vision but it is God’s vision that leaders are trying to articulate. This means the leader must be engaged in spiritual disciplines so as to not miss the sunrise.

The vision for a church is like the sunrise. It is a gift an it comes slowly. It is not the leaders job to cast the vision but to help and show people how to stay awake to the breaking of God’s vision. The pastoral leader is not the one who decides what the vision is, but the one who calls people to look eastward for the coming vision of dawn. The faithful church is less interested in deciding what to do and more interested in where to face.

Goodhart's Law and the Church

On a recent episode of Planet Money entitled The Laws Of The Office, they bring to light Goodhart’s law. The hosts define Goodhart’s law in this way, “if a company decides to measure something, workers will find a way to respond with good numbers.”

https://towardsdatascience.com/unintended-consequences-and-goodharts-law-68d60a94705c

https://towardsdatascience.com/unintended-consequences-and-goodharts-law-68d60a94705c

The Wikipedia entry quotes Marilyn Strathern who summarized the law as: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

This got me thinking about the Church, specifically when the Church decides to measure things. Like other organizations, the Church measures a number of inputs in an attempt to get a full picture of the state of the Church. If Goodhart’s Law is true, once we choose a measure to measure our Churches, it is no longer a helpful measure because people will find ways to respond with good numbers.

In theology terms, this is called living under the Law. Living under the Law means that when we find ways to measure, humans, who are susceptible to Sin, will find ways to look good under the parameters of the Law. Knowing where we stand in relation to others is a key characteristic to Law living.

The Gospel smashes these hierarchies and comparisons. The Gospel proclaims that everyone is forgiven and make whole. This leveling of the playing field is met with great suspicion when we live under the Law (how can we know who is the best or at least who has “earned” the honor we give them?) Recall when Jesus’ parable of the workers who each received the same wage regardless of hours spent working? Or the idea that the first will be last and the last will be first? Jesus proclaimed a Gospel of freedom from the Law.

Even Goodhart’s Law.

Preacher-Comic-Musician-Social Activist Gospel Loop

There is a bit of an interesting cycle in the preacher world that is perhaps not unique but nonetheless real. It goes like this:

The preacher wants to be a comic because there is something the preforming comedy that allows you to speak truth to power with a joke and a nod.

The comic wants to be a musician because they get the crowds and music has a broader reach to get their message out.

The musician wants to be a social activist because social work can transform peoples lives.

The social activist wants to be able to inspire people’s hearts and not just their hands and thus gives speeches to crowds - looking a lot like a preacher.

Photo by  Eduardo Sánchez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Eduardo Sánchez on Unsplash

And the cycle is complete.

As I read the four gospels, I see this cycle at play. Luke is the social activist who desires to raise our awareness of the margins. Matthew is the preacher who builds the whole gospel on five sermons of Jesus. Mark is the comic being able to speak truth to power with a little joke (“Don’t tell anyone I am the messiah” - Jesus). John is among the most poetic and even dare I say, musical gospels we have.