I’ve been gone for a few days of conferences, and now I’ve got a couple of deadlines looming, so I can’t write much.

As many of you Presbyterians know, Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment has gotten a lot of discussion going. Now I’m part of a group of people who are responding to it for the Office of Worship and Theology of the Presbyterian Church.

How would you respond? What do you think about it?


Metaphorically speaking


I’ve been working on a practice of visioning for the Sacred Practices Leadership Series. We are using Walter Bruggeman’s Prophetic Imagination as a text, and it has been wonderful to think about this more.

I’m realizing how much metaphors feed me in my personal and corporate life. For instance, if a person suffered abuse as a child, then she will need to go through a process of identifying the abuse and healing from it. Often that healing process can be helped through developing new metaphors that will help us to walk from seeing ourselves as a victim to a survivor (you know, like Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer).

I remember one point in my ministry—the lowest point—when I had a couple of people in our congregation who didn’t like me much. As a pastor, there’s always someone who doesn’t like you, but they were constantly complaining, and I have never been called so many nasty names in my life….

The leadership in the church (like many churches) had a bad habit of caving to bullies. They wanted peace, so they would often go out of their way to placate people, and they were often urging me to do the same. It was hard to cave though, since the majority of their complaints had to do with the fact that I was a young woman, and there really wasn’t much that I could do about either one of those facts. I was really angry. If they didn’t want a young woman pastor, why did they hire one?

During all of this, my personal life was a wreck. My body was doing all of these weird things that I won’t go into, but I was going in for all of these tests to find out if I had cancer. Then, I had a miscarriage. I wanted that baby so badly that it still makes my stomach tremble to think about it.

It was a very bad year.

I never told my congregation about all that was going on, and I wasn’t safe enough to do so. After all, how do you tell a congregation that regularly complains that you’re a woman that it feels like you’re falling apart because you just had a miscarriage and you might have breast cancer?

I did, however, pray an awful lot. I would go on long walks in the woods and my tears would bubble up, and I would have a safe space to be an emotional young woman.

One of the most healing moments during that time was when I saw a baby bird, shaking on the ground. I walked right up to her, and she didn’t move. I immediately felt a connection, and I kept saying to her, “I wish I could help you. I wish I knew what to do.” Even more than wanting to assist, I felt like that bird, completely weak and shaken.

After a while, I walked on a bit. But when I came back to that spot, the bird was gone. I looked up and saw a bird flying in the air. I don’t know that it was the same one, but somehow I gained great strength from the moment. In times of difficulties, I thought about the bird soaring above me, and I knew that I would make it through the year.

I did make it, and I learned to look for those metaphors, not only in my life, but also in the life of our spiritual communities. Much of my pastoral counseling is leading people into thinking about metaphors that will help them to move from a place of brokenness to wholeness.

It is, after all, what the prophets do: imagining streams in the midst of deserts, clay that is being formed, and fragile young birds that are being comforted under God’s wing.

photo by Little Miss Sunshine

Better vision


I never know exactly what to do with these staggering statistics. 

In the PC(USA) we have [edited on 4/23] 2208 ministers looking for a position and 645 positions available. That’s 3.4 pastors available for each job.

Of course, we have a glut on one end, and empty pulpits on the other.

About 5,000 (48%) of our churches have less than 100 members and most of them don’t have installed pastors, and many of the Boomer pastors will soon be retiring (though with the economic crisis, maybe not as soon as we thought).

But still… these are some shocking numbers.

What are we going to do? We’re letting many of our gifted leaders go into other professions. 

Dig a little deeper into those stats and we might find a solution to some of it:

How many searching pastors would like to start a new church development? 566.

How many new churches is our denomination starting? 7.

Seven new church developments in our whole denomination? Aren’t we closing churches pretty rapidly? What’s happening to that land and that money? Are our middle governing bodies living off of the endowments instead of putting them into new church plants?

It might be time to look at how we do business.

Why not start 550 churches right now? I know the way that we have traditionally done it costs a lot of money, but it doesn’t have to. Plus, we all know that there has been almost no time in our history when vision follows money. Money follows vision. So before we start with the fact that we have no money, let’s start dreaming a little bit.

How about this?

•We could start nesting new congregations in older ones. We’ve been doing this with immigrant congregations for a long time now. What if we began to think of emerging churches, or churches that are reaching out to a different demographic, in the same way? Instead of thinking of them as a community with competing interests, we can welcome them as people who are extending our church community.

•We could start churches in rented spaces. We’re seen it happen all over the place: coffeehouses, living rooms, and art galleries.

•One pastor could intentionally start more than one congregation. This would be important for small, home communities that could not afford to support a pastor.

What are your ideas? We have the most important resource: willing pastors. Can we find a way to let them do what they feel called to do?

We can no longer afford an educated clergy — On-going discussions

A week or so ago, I blogged that we can no longer afford an educated clergy. The discussion has generated a lot of links, emails, and it’s still getting comments.

Those who are interested in further responses:

Sarx posted Can we afford seminary? 

And Lee Hinson-Hasty, the coordinator for theological education and seminary relations in the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) replied with We Can’t Afford Not to Educate Clergy.

What do you want to hear?


So, Bruce Reyes-Chow, a blogger, West Coast pastor and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), and I will be co-hosting an Internet Radio Show starting on May 4. We’ll be reflecting on faith, culture, politics, and life.

I’ll keep you updated with more information, in the next couple of weeks. But… right now… Landon Whitsitt, our amazing producer, is gathering topics.

So, what would you want to hear about? Or, what sort of things do you want the larger church to hear about? Topics, anyone?

Pointers for Pastor Nominating Committees


Maybe it’s the economic crisis that’s bringing a whole lot of stress to our jobs and making them unbearable. I don’t know, but it seems like I’m getting a lot of off-line emails about queries, frustrations, and excitement that comes with the search for a new pastorate. So, I thought I’d put some guidance out there for the committees who are calling pastors. 

Be timely. I know that Pastor Nominating Committees are made up of volunteers, but I don’t know how many times I have seen committees drag their feet, going through the stack of hundreds of resumes, and it takes them so long that all of the good candidates have lost interest or found other jobs.

If you’re on a committee, you might be looking at that stack, thinking that you have so many possibilities. But, there might only be a couple of people who are right for your church. If you do take a long time on different steps of the process, make sure that you keep in close contact with the candidates whom you are serious about. No one likes to be left hanging.

Beat the bushes. In the Presbyterian Church, we have a Call Referral Service, which is kind of an on-line dating service for pastors and churches. It will generate a great deal of paper for you. And it works too. I received my last two jobs through CRS. However, often the best information comes from good, old-fashioned word of mouth. A lot of churches realize that they are really great, and they figure that all of the good candidates will be beating down their doors. But, it doesn’t always work that way. Committees will still need to work hard to find the best qualified person.

Check the stats. (PCUSA churches can find them through this link. Search for the congregation, then for congregational statistics.) I know I am going to get a hard time from my pastor colleagues on this… and please feel free to take issue on this point. I just bring it up because I’ve seen it happen too many times. A great church calls a handsome, tall, intelligent pastor who just happened to have the last three congregations implode while he was there. Or, during the eight years when he was ministering to the congregation, the attendance dropped to one-quarter of its previous size. Then, when the same thing happens to calling congregation, they are shocked.

I say this, not because those stats are completely accurate. I followed a pastor who did a bit of number finagling. Everyone kept telling me how much the attendance had increased, but the denominational stats did not tell that story. When I dug a little deeper, I realized that there was a significant difference between the actual numbers and the ones that were reported.

Also, growth does not solely depend on pastoral leadership. There are many, many factors that go into it.

But, nonetheless, the stats can be good warning signs or they can be hopeful. Of course, if there is a problem, you will want to talk to the pastor. There can be many explanations for a dramatic drop in numbers (i.e., the town’s main industry closes down or the session finally let the pastor clean the rolls).

Understand the Google generation. If you’re looking for a pastor who is under the age of thirty (or sometimes older), and you Google his or her name, you might be appalled by what you find. You may find a blog with free-flowing thoughts, complaints, and even misspelled words. You might find some pictures on Facebook of her at a social event. You might find a lot of things that you may not have wanted to see.

Is this because the pastor was immodest? No. It is just that when people are under a certain age, they have a different idea of publishing information on the web. Their lives have been chronicled there.

Maybe you don’t want to know all of this about your pastor. Maybe you want your pastor to stand up in a robe, in a high pulpit on Sunday morning, and you don’t want to know that she might have a social life, or thoughts about anything other than the 4th chapter of Matthew. You may not want to know that she is capable of typos. Should this deter you from hiring her? No.

If your church has on its information that you want to grow, or that you want to attract young families, then realize that there is a shift in accessibility. Many younger members aren’t looking for the untouchable pastor. They are more comfortable with someone who is accessible. So while this might seem scandalous to some, it can actually be a great asset.

So what would you add? What do you wish you could have told the committees who interviewed you last? What mistakes do you see them making? Feel free to comment anonymously, if you need to.

photo by eGabrielle

Shifts in publishing


I am fascinated by change, and I love reading and talking to smart people about how publishing is changing. I wish that I could quote specific people, but since I have not gotten any permission, I won’t.

I will say that I’m in the midst of an interesting stream of people who are thinking about this stuff all of the time. My husband and I have friends who work for NPR. My colleague, John Wimberly, is on the board of the Presbyterian Outlook. I write for Alban Institute, and, of course, I have a wonderful group of creative friends who write and keep up with all of this.

So, let me tell you what I’ve gleaned recently…

We have heard the horrible news of newspaper after newspaper going under. What is happening? What will people be looking for in the future? Here are my predictions, which aren’t really mine because they have all been stolen from people who are much smarter than me.

If publications dig in their heels, and stick only with print media, they will die a slow and sad death. There’s just not much growth in print-only media, and the business there is based on nostalgia. If companies hold on to print-only media ideals, they will end up with an increasingly older, shrinking demographic as their readership.

I know it’s painful. I know we are longing for the way that it was, the smell of an old book and the feel of having a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, but younger generations don’t pick up newspapers and they subscribe to few magazines.

And so publishers need to begin thinking of themselves as media outlets, instead of just people working in newsprint. They will need to start diversifying into informative websites, podcasts, twitter blasts, social networking, and whatever else might stick.

Alban does a good job with this. They don’t just publish books, or a magazine, but they have webinars, emails, podcasts, blogs, and twitter updates. They have consultants and speakers. And they are even rethinking their educational events so that they might be communities of spiritual practice and learning. They are exploring the possibilities of on-line publishing. 

News will be distilled to fit onto a Blackberry/iPhone screen. We have gotten more and more used to headline news, the scrolling bits, and the distillation of a story into 140 characters or less.

Book demand will increase. This was actually a surprise to me, but a friend in the industry said that people will be looking at short headlines, but when they want to read more, they will turn to books. The in-depth reporters that are being laid off from newspapers, will start writing timely volumes. He forecasted that the quality and pricing of books will go down, and the demand will rise even more.

So what do you think? What would your predictions be? What will all of this look like for church leaders? Will we also be expected to be versed in the multiple mediums? Should seminaries start teaching classes on how to create podcasts and give pointers on what to put on a blog? Should denominations offer continuing ed on social networking? Should pastor search committees be looking for aptitude in these things as they search for a pastor? (For Presbyterians, should it at least be listed as one of the skills on our PIF?) Should we keep putting our church advertising money into newspaper ads? And (at the very least) shouldn’t our colleagues quit ranting about how all this stuff is a just a waste of time?

Photo by alankcrain