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The "B and A Eaters"

Two times a year I visit this healthy restaurant in my neighborhood. It is a nice place, serving people in the community for several decades and it really does serve good food. I intend to go there more often, but they are only open one day a week, only for breakfast, and by the time I remember this is the day it is open, I am very tired and have other obligations/options for breakfast. In fact, I have gotten to the point that I really enjoy eating at home with my family and friends, so unless they are going to go with me to the restaurant, I do not go. Except twice a year, my birthday and anniversary.

Photo by  Rachel Park  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rachel Park on Unsplash

The restaurant regulars know me as one of the many "birth-aversary eaters" or, for short: "B and A eaters." 

The people there are nice, to be sure and I know they are trying to welcome me to the restaurant they love so much. They tell me how long it has been since they saw me last and even talk about how great the food is or how I should meet the new chef who is doing so good cooking these days. All of it is okay, but a bit overwhelming. I sort of feel guilty when I am there because I am reminded that I generally do not eat healthy for breakfast all the time. I also feel a bit bad because I live so close to the restaurant, and feel like I should support local business and yet cannot seem to make it there more often. 

It really is a fine restaurant, and I support their work. I believe in eating local and supporting the community. I left a tip that was a bit more than I normally would leave as a way of saying thank you. And I am sure I will be back on the next anniversary, but I hope they would stop calling me a "B and A eater." I hope the chef does not point me out and say, "it has been so long since I saw you last, you should come more often!" I hope the guilt I naturally feel is not compounded by the regulars who do not see that I notice their disappointment when I am sitting in their usual spot. 

All I really want is to not feel guilty for going to breakfast. Maybe something is off in me? Or maybe something is off in the culture that does not know what to do with the occasional breakfast eater. 

Church Meetings as Ritual - not Rubber Stamps

Church meetings can be a drag. Oftentimes the critique is that Church meetings are more a rubber stamp than anything. The implication is that rubber stamps are not a very meaningful use of time. People show up and the decisions have already been made and so the official/final vote at the meeting is a "rubber stamp."

What I would offer up is that many of the most significant times in our lives look on the surface like rubber stamps, but we know that they are not. 

For instance, a wedding. The ones being married have already made the decision to get married. They have already planned and made hundreds of little decisions that brought them to the wedding day. The wedding ceremony is very choreographed where every question asked at the "meeting" is already decided. We do not see the wedding as a rubber stamp because we know the wedding is a ritual.

Photo by  Hannes Wolf  on  Unsplash

Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash

Baptisms are the same way. This sacrament is a ritualizing of a series of decisions that have already been made. The ritual is there to not only formalize but to proclaim that in fact the work of God happens before our work and that what we do in in response to God's work. Again, on the surface baptisms can look like rubber stamps, but we do not think of them as such.

I want to offer up to those who view meetings as rubber stamps to see Church meetings as rituals - not rubber stamps. If you are disappointed or frustrated that your voice was not heard at the meeting, then we know that our relationships with the leadership needs to be worked on. And perhaps we know this and this is why we are prone to see meetings as rubber stamps but not weddings. We have a relationship with the couple getting married but not always with the people leading the meeting. 

The next time you are leading or attending a Church meeting, consider approaching the meeting as a ritual. It may be easier to see everyone in the meeting in the same light we see everyone at a wedding (beloved) when we approach the meeting as a ritual. 

Are we creating vital churches on a sinking island?

Diana Butler Bass shared a story on the "Robcast" podcast. This is about a vital and vibrant United Methodist Church on Tangier Island. Tangier Island is in the Chesapeake Bay and is one of the places in the world where rising sea levels are dramatically changing the island. Namely, the island is being swallowed up by the ocean. 

Bass shared that on this island is an old UM congregation that has the longest continuous Methodist class meeting (a type of small group). This group dates to the days of John Wesley. This church is doing great things for the community and, as Bass said, "doing all the right things". However, the land on which this community is built is sinking. 

Over the past several years the United Methodist Church has emphasized how important it is to create vital congregations. And we should be doing that. However, all the focus on creating vital congregations that "do all the right things" may obscure our vision that the ground on which the Church is built may be sinking. 

The church is built on trust. Disciples trust Christ. Laity trust pastors. Pastors trust Bishops and Superintendents. Non-member trust that even though they may not attend, the Church is trying to do good. Clergy trust other clergy are not in competition with each other but in connection and collaboration. We trust that resources shared make a greater impact than resources of one local church. 

The Church is not the only thing built on trust. The stock market and governments are also built on trust. We even use trust as a primary litmus test for who we support for president. All of these institutions built on an expression of trust all face troubled waters. There is mistrust among states to to give any aid to them. Congress has some of the lowest approval ratings of all time. There is a lack of trust toward banks, Wall Street brokers and police departments. 

And so we come to the question facing the church: Are we creating vital churches on a sinking island? What can the Church do to rebuild trust? 

Originally posted January 27, 2016

Church Leadership - From Committee Process to Leadership Positions

The Church often tells herself that she is counter-cultural. The reality is the Church is a cultural product and in influenced by the culture in many of the same ways other spheres are. For instance, the rise of the "big box" stores in culture, where one could get all they wanted in "one stop",  was also seen in the rise of the "mega church", where one can get all you want in "one stop." Or the rise of "Christian hip hop" comes after the hip hop movement is underway. There are moments when the Church is counter-cultural but the Church is more often a laggard to the cultural influences. 

Photo by  Samuel Zeller  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Since the early days of America, the United States government has relied upon a strong committee system to generate, build and adopt policy. Since the 1970's the government has made dramatic strides to move from a committee system and embrace more a party system. This is a long and nuanced history, but the essence is this: the power in the committee systems lie with the committee chairs whereas in a party system power lies with party leaders. Those in key leadership positions have not liked that there are committee chair persons who have great autonomy to "cut deals" and modify the agenda. Additionally, there was push for greater transparency in these committees and so the committee system has slowly been marginalized. 

The erosion of the committee system has contributed to a more polarized congress than ever before and it is now the small number of party leaders who wield the most power.

All of this relates to the Church because we are seeing now this play out in the life of the Church. While there is an ever growing push in culture to streamline decisions and consolidate power around positions, this is also making its way into the Church. 

Where was once a joke that Churches would have a meeting to decide if they were going to have a meeting, now Churches are making decisions to cut committees and move to "executive teams" or "governing boards". These teams/boards are very efficient and able to make decisions quicker than committees. This system also has a number of benefits that are favored in these times where so much of the church revolves around the pastor who is given even more power to "lead" the church. I am not knocking church leadership that moves away from the committee model; to each her own. What I want to offer up is the reminder that the Church is called to be a counter cultural voice, the place that values the still small voice and worships the God of all time not the god of efficiency.