Further questions?

I just finished the Webinar, which was pretty surreal. I was talking into the phone and clicking through a power point on my computer. Meanwhile there were about 80 participants that I couldn’t see. There was no interaction, no facial expressions (except for emoticons. Surreal, I tell you). Then, we had five minutes for questions. There were about ten questions… and you know how wordy I am. So, I didn’t come close to answering them.

For the sake of ongoing discussion, let’s talk about them here. I’ll tell you what I said, what I meant to say, and what I should have said. And, we can gather the wisdom of the ‘nets. How would you answer them? What questions would you add?

How do we get young adults in our doors?

Well, the front door for most young adults is actually your website. If you’re going to put money and energy anywhere, you’ll probably need to put it into your site. Try to get an online presence, with blogging, Yelp, and things like that. Mac makes it really easy to build sites.

If there’s a college or university near by, you can begin there. Western received 15% of its membership directly from the campus ministry. And 10% of its attendance comes from students.

But… the best advertising for churches is word of mouth. (Here’s a post on it.) So, if you can get people talking about your church, talking about their own spiritual journeys, then you’re in good shape.

Basically, you need to get a few young adults in church, give them some substantial power, let them begin their own things, and let them tell their friends.

Good preaching’s pretty important too. Post your sermons on the web, so people can email them to one another (amazingly, this actually happens).

What about in rural settings? Web sites are okay, but what about rural communities?

When I was in Abbeville, I hung out in the local coffeehouse, put flyers up for events there.

Oh! Interesting letters to the editor work well in rural communities. Or sometimes you can get articles in the paper.

In a rural community, you actually have an advantage when it comes to word of mouth. People talk about things. Word gets around quickly.

I can’t get the different generations in our congregation to be in the building at the same time. How do you build intergenerational community, when you can’t get them in the same place at the same time?

That’s a struggle. Retirees can make it during the day, and young adults at night. Families? It’s always hard for families to find time…. We can always count on young adults on Sundays, but it’s hard for them to make it at other times. Worship is central, and then build your other interactions around worship.

We also have a men’s group (Wednesday 7 a.m.) and a women’s spirituality group (Sunday 8:30 am). Both are intergenerational.

Usually when people talk about churches for Generation X, they are churches only for Generation X. Why do you talk about intergenerational connection?

Right. That’s what I read about a lot. But it hasn’t been my experience. Intergenerational ministry is what’s always worked in the churches that I’ve pastored. And in the churches that my friends pastor. So, I felt like there was a missing voice in all of this. Our society needs intergenerational understanding. And, I know many young adults and college students who really appreciate the community.

There were some questions on worship styles. Maybe I’ll try to get the original questions from Alban… Stay tuned. And what would your answers be? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What would you ask?

Quickly…

I can’t post this morning, because I’m getting ready for the Alban Webinar. I should get something up later….

A quick apology for those who look at old posts. We updated WordPress, and it messed up a lot of the punctuation… Until I get it fixed, sorry about that.

Power and responsibility

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Ira Glass is pretty much amazing, in my book. There are certain people who inspire me to preach better, even though their work has nothing to do with preaching. Glass is one of them. Sarah Vowell. David Sedaris.

Wait there’s a running theme here…. Hhmmm… is it great story-tellers with nasally voices? Maybe… oh no. It’s that they’re all on This American Life.

Anyways, this week, Ira outdid himself. He hit a nerve with this episode on power. A really weird nerve. It’s just in the first four-minute prologue. (How did he do that in four minutes?)

It’s worth a listen, but I’ll try to sum it up. Glass meets with a couple of friends, missionaries who work in Chicago, with at-risk kids. They had just seen Schindler’s List and wanted to talk to Ira because they felt they understood Jews better. They knew about the Holocaust, but movie somehow made the horror and devastation sink in.

The part of the movie that struck them the most was at the end, when Schindler was so distraught that he didn’t save more Jews. And so the couple says, “That’s us. That’s our lives.” They explain how at the end of their lives, they’re going to regret all of the time that they did paperwork when they could have been saving kids. Or, they watched a football game, when they could have been bringing people to God.

What’s interesting about the four minutes, is that Glass holds their story very gingerly at this point. I was cringing, waiting for him to point out the latent anti-Semitism, or for him to talk about when they tried to convert him. The point where Glass mocks them and says that they have an over-inflated sense of their work. But he doesn’t. He says that he understands them for the first time. He says that they have the power to bring people to God, and with great power comes great responsibility.

I easily related to this couple. In my fundamentalist past, I could have met them. I could understand their sense of responsibility, and the idea that it was up to them to save those lives. That was one of the heaviest burdens I gave up when I became Reformed–I finally realized that it wasn’t up to me to do the saving. God would draw people. I could help, but it would be God. It wasn’t up to me to make a church survive. Pastors came before me. Pastors would come after me.

But I do wonder if there’s a bit of this idea left in me. Perhaps it lurks about in all of us… Is that why pastors often work too much? You know, when people are upset and call late at night, and I (of course) answer the phone. Or when I work on my days off because there’s been a tragedy.

I tell myself it’s because I want them to know that the church will be there when they’re distraught. I want to do what I can to help. I don’t want to abandon people when they need the church the most. I do it because I care. But, I also wonder if it’s an over-inflated sense of my own power. Or is it just what Glass says (and of course, Jesus says it too)–that with great power comes great responsibility?

Oh, and I’d love to know. Who’s the story-teller, writer, fictional character who inspires your preaching? The person who’s not necessarily religious, but motivates your art the most?

One is silver and the other’s gold

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We had dinner with some friends last night. F-R-I-E-N-D-S. Our kids became friends first, but then we had an immediate bond over Mexican folk art. Strange, but true. We both have homes filled with masks, hammered metal, woodcarvings, and books. She walked into our oddly familiar living room, looked at me and said, “What are you doing Friday night?”

That’s what I miss the most about being a pastor. Having friends.

My husband and I are very social people, and over the years, we’ve made a lot of our friends at work or at church. Now that our church is our work, we don’t do that so much. I have friends in my congregation, of course. I mean, the church’s pretty amazing, filled very fun and interesting people. But I usually don’t hang out with them on my days off.

Since we often need to be available when others are done with their business hours, between the two of us, we have meetings almost every night, and we work on weekends. Our house is rarely clean, so other than a constant stream of neighborhood kids, we don’t have people over very much.

We have wonderful clergy friends, but they have the same nutty schedules, and it’s impossible to get something on the calendar with them.

And then we have to move a lot. And if we’re not moving, then our clergy friends are moving. So just when you find another pastor who’s not utterly work-oriented, and can squeeze in a movie every once in a while, then they move away. Or you have to move. And the whole friendship-making process starts all over again.

Our lives get so busy, and we’re public figures, we’re surrounded with people, and so we hardly realize that we have… no friends. Pastors are usually introverted and being around people takes a lot of energy. But we can easily slip from that comforting solitude to distressing loneliness.

So, in every place we’ve moved, we’ve had to figure the friend-thing out. We have friends who are far away, but we need friends who are close by. It’s important. Otherwise we become isolated, our view of reality becomes distorted, and we start living in that really strange church-bubble.

We’ve found friends in our neighborhood and in art communities. Now, most of my friends are at my daughter’s school. Other moms and dads. I actually didn’t realize that they were that close, until I got in a bind one day. Someone died and I had to have a babysitter. So I called about ten other parents and neighbors, explaining the situation to the various cell phone answering machines. And then, when I was in the shower, my answering machine became flooded:

“Of course.” “No problem.” “Bring her right over.” “That would be great.” “Anything for a friend.” “Anytime.” “Please, call me if you need anything else.” I let out a deep sigh of relief. Because it’s just so much better when we have some friends around.

So, what do you do? Do you find it difficult to make friends? How do you stay connected?

photo’s by m o d e

Thinking about things way too much….

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So, I’m standing at the display of glasses, trying on frames. None of them look right, for some reason. My husband’s not with me, and I can’t see myself clearly when I look in the mirror. I need help.

Thank God, a matronly sales person, who has a knack for truth-telling, walks over and saves me. “Those don’t work. They’re too big for your head.”

She quickly begins to check the sizes of all the frames (I had no idea that frames came in sizes), and she ends up with two pairs in her hands, but quickly dismisses them. “Nope, these won’t do.”

Then, she goes into the back, retrieves a dozen small boxes, and begins unpacking. “These are all your size. We should be able to find something here.” And she puts the glasses on me, without poking my eyes, or even my ears, and gives me a tepid evaluation of each pair, until she smiles broadly. She hands me the mirror, and says, “Here they are. These are perfect.”

I look, and they are. “Thanks!” I say, hardly believing that I have my very own eyewear fairy godmother. But then, I take the glasses off, look at the side, and say, “Oh. I can’t buy these.”

“Why not?”

“They’re Prada.”

“So?”

“I’m a pastor.”

“Ssssooo?”

“The DEVIL wears Prada. I can’t wear Prada.” She laughs. And then I add, “They cost too much. It just wouldn’t be good.”

Then she assures me that with my insurance, they would cost the same amount as any other pair of glasses. I look down, and think Shane Claiborne makes his own clothes, and I wear freaking PRADA glasses. What kind of hard-core, social justice, urban minister am I? Then, it occurs to me, I have a dremel. I could scratch out the brand name. I might not even ruin them.

But that would be ridiculous. So I assure myself that no one will notice. It’s a tiny five-letter word etched into the side of metal. My anti-materialistic pride shouldn’t keep me from buying the most logical pair of glasses.

Yet, that’s the world I live in. The balancing act I’m often in the middle of. I’m a public figure in a city where most professionals dress in a certain way. A place where people expect you to have a decent haircut, and a decent haircut can cost hundreds of dollars.

So, I take my fashion advice from an unlikely source: Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the civil rights movement, he told people that they needed to put on their Sunday best when they gathered to protest. And if we look at those black and white photos, the ones with the dogs and the hoses, it’s startling on so many levels. But the one thing I always notice is that the men wore ties, the women wore gloves. Down to their fingertips, they preferred dignity over comfort.

I broke down. I bought the glasses. And then the first thing on Sunday morning, one of the college students raised her eyebrows at me and said, “Hhmm. Prada, eh?”

Gatekeeping

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I had a meeting a few months ago with a group of clergy and the counseling center on campus. They wanted to make sure that when students had serious psychological issues, that we knew where to refer them. “Clergy are often the entryway for long-term treatment.”

So true.

(As an aside, I asked if the counselors ever refer students to the clergy, and I got a blank stare. Finally, the confused counselor asked, “Why would we?” I explained that many students have spiritual crises that a student intern in a MSW program may not know how to handle, but we do. Sadly, she wasn’t convinced. But she did allow me to give her some referrals for a couple of certified pastoral counselors.)

The meeting was another realization that there are many, many things that cannot be taught through a seminary textbook, but they’re things we need to know. And they’re usually things we figure out quickly after placing our books on the study shelf.

When an addiction is destroying a family.
When someone suffers from long-term depression.
When an anxiety seems to be overtaking a person’s ability to function.
When sexual abuse has occurred.
When a child is high-need.
When a teenager cannot adjust.
When a couple can’t have a child.
When a caretaker needs to be taken care of.
When a spouse is having an affair.
When a person is going to die.
The list goes on and on….

Church leaders are often the ones with the first clues. We’re the ones that people can go to without having to call their insurance provider. Our meeting won’t show up on the permanent medical record. We won’t show up as a red flag for security clearance. We’re often the gatekeepers.

When I began as a pastor, certain people intimidated me. They were so successful, so together, I didn’t know how I could be their minister. But it didn’t take long before I realized just how broken humans are. How broken we all are.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming when we’re invited into people’s lives. There are many things that I’d rather not know. I have intuitions that I hope and pray are not true, but our intuitions become very sharp in this profession. With so much knowledge, you just can’t help notice some patterns after a while.

And, unlike a counselor, we’re in it for the long haul. I don’t mean that pastors should engage in long-term counseling. I mean that the session doesn’t end after an hour. We still acknowledge the person in the grocery store. We’re still involved, from that quick gasp at baptism to the slow last breath at the deathbed.

It is our wonderful, difficult job.

photo’s by gardenchien