Creating a culture


When I was at the Rauschenbusch course at the College of Preachers, we read this interview, a conversation between William Sloan Coffin and Paul Raushenbush. Coffin, of course, is amazing. There’s so much that I could comment on, but this stuck out:

The churches are a reflection of the truth of Plato’s statement, “What’s honored in the country will be cultivated there.” When we got started as a country, we had no more than 3 million people–less than Los Angeles County today. Yet we turned out Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton–you can name a list as long as your arm. How many people on the public stage can you name today who are of the caliber of those first men? And why aren’t there more? Because what’s honored in the country will be cultivated there.

Or how come those itty, bitty Italian city-states turned out one fantastic painter and sculptor after another? Because every kid couldn’t wait to get his mitt on a paint brush. What’s honored in the country will be cultivated there. We have fantastic athletes. I watched the Spurs and Lakers yesterday. Those guys play basketball like nobody’s business. Yet we have mediocre politicians, and the clergy is pretty mediocre also. But what’s honored in a country will be cultivated there. The greatest recession in this country is not economic; it’s spiritual. And so the great biblical mandates of pursuing justice and seeking peace are shortchanged.

Now, it would be easy to go from these wise words into that tired rant about how people just don’t give pastors the r-e-s-p-e-c-t that they got in the hallowed 1950s. I’ve heard about the discounts men could get in the department stores if they wore their collars back in the day.

But…I have to say…I’m always annoyed by that denominational, teary-eyed longing for a time when African-Americans were still being lynched, women had next-to-no voice in our pulpits, and gays and lesbians had to hide deep in the closet. It’s a new day, and I really couldn’t be happier about that fact.

I also resent it when older ministers are always calling us mediocre. I wish they knew how painful it is to hear that all the time, throughout seminary, throughout all the good work that we’re doing…. I always take it personally. How else can we take it? And it makes me wonder, Were you guys really that much better than us? Isn’t there some other way to rouse brilliance in our leaders than constantly pointing out how unremarkable we are?

All that said, what I am interested in is how we can begin to cultivate pastors. FTE talks about this as a culture of call, and they’re studying churches all across the country to find out why particular congregations send more people to seminary. It’s a fascinating question.

I’ve been hearing more and more people around our place dropping hints like, “You know, the thing I would love about your job is….” Why is that? People who read this blog know that the best part about it is the comments. So let’s hear it. What’s your story? What inspired you to go into leadership? Is there any particular thing in your culture that you can point to that incites you to be a leader of great caliber? What sort of things are you doing to cultivate church leaders? What could we be doing better?


15 thoughts on “Creating a culture

  1. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14).God’s unfailing love and faithfulness is what has drawn me and motivates me to serve. Along the way have been some incredible people of God encouraging me. I’m 52 now and finishing my undergrad and have been accepted at seminary for the Fall 2008 term. God isn’t done with me yet.

  2. It’s great, isn’t it? And he’s a preacher, even in the interview. He has that ability to keep going back to the phrase, and interweave it throughout his illustrations. A real master.

  3. Coffin was calling many clergy inadequate when he was in his thirties. He was right then. He is right now. Hard work is one thing. The willingness to speak a prophetic word is another and too many of our colleagues simply refuse to address in very explicit, direct terms Iraq, national debt, racism and sexism in the church, etc. Not every clergy person is called to be a prophet. but there are more called to it than answer the call. john

  4. John,

    Well, at least it’s not just our generation he’s talking about…

    Can you think of any prophetic women preachers?

    I often wish that prophets and priests were two offices, like in the Old Testament. You know, the culture seemed to allow a space for that person to yell at the city gates, see visions, marry a prostitute, or whatever crazy thing God called him to do.

  5. Yvette Flunder is on my list of prophetic women preachers. I’ve never heard her in person, just on the “Living the Questions” DVDs (the 2.0 version). She knocks me over.

  6. I think Barbara Lundblad is prophetic. She is ELCA and is now I think teaches preaching at Union.

    Thinking about the call to be prophetic makes me feel inadequate.

    And the “hard work” question — sometimes hard work is what keeps us from doing the important work. I suspect pastors are busier than they used to be a generation or two ago.

  7. btw, I’m not sure that I agree that pastors in general were so all-fired terrific in the 50’s. but his phrase is worth noting…”what is honored will be cultivated.” Because I don’t think good (I mean really good) preaching is honored in many places.

    I notice that preaching without notes is honored (which could be good) EXCEPT that it doesn’t seem to matter what the person says, just that they preach without notes.

  8. The whole preaching without notes thing does seem to impress people…

    I agree the phrase is worth noting. So how do we honor good preaching/pastoring? Would it be money, preaching awards, department store discounts…. I don’t think any of these would do it. (Would money do it? If we got paid as much as the Lakers? I don’t think so…I think we’d just end up with a whole cadre of people preaching for the wrong reasons….) Neither do I think continually telling us that we’re mediocre does it. But what would? How do we help to create a culture (at least within our congregations) where really amazing leadership and preaching is nurtured?

  9. I don’t know the answer to this question…, but it is worth pondering. I agree, the bucks (I wouldn’t turn them down) wouldn’t do it, though…

  10. I realize I am way behind on this post, but I just discovered your blog a week ago, and as a 23 year old Presbyterian and seminarian, I have found that much of what you are saying resonates deeply within me. Sometimes (ok, pretty often) I think that my call is to a more prophetic kind of pastorate, and that scares the hell out of me. We have a family friend (a presbyterian minister) who is that kind of preacher, and he keeps getting run out of town. Heck, I already feel like I’m being run out of town at my current church (although in a very passive aggressive type of way) just for saying that our youth aren’t connecting to our “big church,” for asking why we aren’t talking about post-modernism, why we go to Mexico and South America every year but don’t feed the migrant workers who stand down the street looking for work. As a young person, I often feel like I am less than an adult; I rarely feel valued or empowered. Blogs like yours give me hope that there are people out there who feel otherwise.

    As to women preachers…to this day, the best sermon I ever heard (ever) was given by Brenda Salter Mcneil at Urbana 2006. Talk about a prophetic voice! And man, could that woman preach…

  11. Mike,

    I think it’s probably good that it scares the hell out of you. The most frightening people are those who are really comfortable in the prophet position…

    I’m more like Jonah. I suck at it, and I’m always trying to run away.

    Keep up the good questions. We need them!

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