Blessings and burdens in a wired church


Last week, I helped to lead a Moderators’ Conference on the blessings and burdens of technology. There were so many things that were fascinating about the dynamics of the meeting. It was a conference for the moderators of middle governing bodies (Synods and Presbyteries, if you’re conversant in Preby-ese).

Usually, when I teach conferences, people show up because they want to know about the topic. But this was different. People needed the Moderator training, and that’s why they were there. The technology stuff had very mixed reviews.

It was invigorating in so many ways. There were people who did not know the possibilities that social media presented. So when we talked about evangelism, and how congregations are using web 2.0 to reach out through sermon podcasts, blogs, and review sites, a light went on for many. All of a sudden, that command to reach the ends of the earth became a palpable reality.

In fact, we not only talked about this, but we saw it happen. At one point in the conference, there were about 150 Moderators in the room, but we were Ustreaming the event, so 940 people were watching it over the Internet.

Other people were not learning as much, but they were sharing what they were already doing in their own congregations, giving me great insight into what’s possible.

When we talked about being able to communicate with each other, about the meeting possibilities, we heard how people used to drive three and a half hours for an hour meeting, and then got in their cars to drive another three and a half hour drive. Now men and women can use Skype to meet with each other, and they can save the seven-hour drives for special occasions.

Many church leaders are conducting Bible studies on Facebook, allowing for busy parents to get the faith formation that they need. And when a pastor found that the elderly women in his church no longer wanted to brave driving in the dark for a study, he taught them how to set up a Facebok page and talk about the Scriptures there.

And of course, we talked about the ability to form communities and tribes through social networking. How our face-to-face communication is enhanced by Internet contact. I certainly found that as I was leading the conference with two Twitter friends. I had never met Melissa DeRosia, but I felt like we were old friends, because of our online interactions.

Even though there was this very exciting part of the conference conversation, there was also a frustrating undercurrent. People were worried about not having control over photos, comments, and content. They wanted to know who had oversight over the Presbyterian gathering in Second Life. People wanted their Presbyteries to have social media policies in place before they experimented, and some were shocked that I hadn’t set up rules and regulations before I jumped in.

I shrugged and said, “Well, I guess we’ll come up with the policy when we run into problems.” (This is when I’m reminded that I was not born and bred Presbyterian. I was raised by an inventor, which makes me approach technology differently.)

Other people were very angry over what they perceived as a generational issue. There was an idea that this was all for the “young folks” and once you get to a certain age, there’s no reason to learn it. They were angry that I would even suggest these tools for people who were over seventy.

It reminded me that the digital divide is not only between the rich and poor, but can also be with people of different generations. But…actually…it’s not really about age. There are people much older than me who are very wired, and people who are younger who hate looking at a screen after having to look at one all day at work.

After all was said and done, I took great comfort in Byron Anthony Wade’s words. He kept reminding me, “We’re just sowing seeds here. Some will grow. Some won’t.”

Good words to hear.


Are we counselors?


Recently, we had a continuing education event at our church on responding to the economic crisis. As we all know, even though the markets are up, and things seem to be stable, the unemployment rate is still high. While the general population is moving on with their Christmas shopping, a huge percentage of our country is still unemployed, trying to get a job in an incredibly tight market. So the needs in our congregations, as well as the level of anxiety and depression, can be quite high.

So we gathered, with two counselors, to find out how to best support people who are suffering during this time–our friends, our loved ones, our members, and often ourselves. One pastor began his question, “When we counsel people who have lost their jobs….”

And the counselor stopped him and said, “You don’t counsel people who have lost their jobs. You are not counselors, you’re not therapists. You can free yourself from that notion.”

It was a relief, in a sense. There are many times when I realize the huge difference between the relationship between a pastor/parishioner and a therapist/patient. When a patient sees a therapist, and then runs into that person in the grocery story, the therapist is not allowed to speak to her patient. The boundaries are set and clear.

When the therapist says something that angers a patient, the patient may discontinue the services, but it probably won’t hurt the therapist too much.

However, when someone comes to see us, we are not in a position to speak truth for an hour and say good-bye. The boundaries are a lot more fluid than that. We always greet them in the grocery store. We are intimately involved with the births, deaths, weddings, and sicknesses in their lives.

I’m not sure that we have the ability to speak the truth in the same way. Although we usually have more trust built in our relationships, we have to live with the consequences in a much more profound way. For instance, most of us have heard of pastors who counseled a spouse to leave a marriage, and then they were forced out of their jobs, or suffered retaliation within the congregation as a result.

All in all, it’s messy. But I don’t know that we can divorce ourselves from the notion altogether.

In Louisiana, pastors did a lot of counseling because it was a rural town, and there were no therapists available. In Rhode Island, pastors did a lot of counseling, because it was a pretty traditional place, and people were often more comfortable talking to their pastor than they were going to a professional counselor. In DC, pastors do a lot of counseling because a visit with me does not show up on medical records or a security clearance.

Also, you don’t have to wait a month to talk to a pastor. We are available, when people need us. The person does not need insurance or even money to talk to us at the moment of distress.

In different parts of the country, in the wealthiest areas and the poorest areas, there was usually a reason why people went to their pastor. There are just many times when we are the counselor. And I feel equipped to be—at least—a gateway to more professional care. And I know that I can provide things that many counselors cannot—like prayer and spiritual direction.

So what do you think? Should pastors be counselors? Are we counselors whether we like it or not? Is the relationship too enmeshed to really do any good?

Photo by dm74


While I’ve been quiet on the blog, it’s mainly because I’ve been other places….

I wrote a post for Church Is Alive, a wonderful blog, full of videos and posts that you should check out.

Also, Bruce and I talked with Eric Elnes yesterday on God Complex Radio. We have spoken to him before, mainly about The Phoenix Affirmations, but this time we talked about the Bible and Worship. It was really interesting. If you are scrambling for ideas for Advent, it’s worth spending a few moments with Eric (just press the play button to listen):

Gender justice and the pews

Note to the women in the pews… it’s time to wake up.

Why do women suddenly change the rules of their lives when they walk into the church? I am, of course, talking about the fact that churches are female dominated organizations–women take up most of our pew space, a majority of our membership roles, and they do most of our volunteer work, and yet, the church persistently discriminates against women.

High-powered women walk into churches that do not ordain women as clergy every day. Young, professional, educated women, who work on Capitol Hill, attend PCA congregations that do not even allow for women elders. And even in our progressive churches, fair-minded women pat themselves on the back, because there is a female Associate Pastor who leads the children’s sermon, not realizing that the AP is receiving half the salary that the male is making.

Most of it is ignorance, I suppose. The women in the pews have never thought about what this discrimination does to female clergy. They are in church to commune with God, to get away from the frustrations of work, and so they do not notice the struggles of women in collars.

Most women clergy are not in a position where they can complain about discrimination. It is frowned upon in our profession to talk about money. And if a woman is in a particularly difficult job situation, she is often powerless, so leaving is much easier than fighting.

In other words, if the very real discrimination is going to stop in our congregations, if our churches are going to become sources of hope, rather than models of discrimination, then the women in the pews are going to need to roll up their sleeves and become advocates.

What can the women and men who are advocates for gender justice do?

1) Become aware of salary ranges of other clergy professionals in your area. Salary information is very easy to get in most of our denominations, and if you take a good look at the salaries in your area, you might find how women are paid much less in our churches. How does your pastor compare to the men in the area?

2) Become aware of the salary ranges on the church staff. How well is the female clergy person paid on your staff? How does her salary compare with the organist, choir director, and secretary? Is there a male pastor who is getting more money, even if he doesn’t have more experience or education? If there is a discrepancy, how can you make the church aware of it and fix it?

3) Do not allow personal information to taint the personnel discussions. Information like, “Well, I’m sure that her husband makes a good salary,” or “But she doesn’t have any children and he does,” or “She is single, she lives in an apartment, she doesn’t really need the money” should not be part of the discussion. Young married women are the head of household 40% of the time, and single women should not be paid less. These discussions should not be taking place, and they certainly should not be factors in determining salaries.

People look to their churches for moral guidance. What are we telling the businessmen in our congregations when we allow these things to persist? And what can we communicate if we begin to ask the right questions?

Children’s Communion

This is the liturgy that we use when children celebrate communion:

You can begin by introducing yourself to the children, and by letting them tell you their names. You may say something like, “In the church, Communion is a special meal that we share together, just like Jesus and the disciples did. People in our church are sharing it, people in churches all over the city are sharing it, and people all over the world are sharing this same meal. We begin Communion by praying and telling God what we’re thankful for.”

Let’s pray.

God, we are thankful that you created us,
And that you love us,
Like a friend,
Like a dad,
And like a mom.

We are thankful that Jesus was born
And showed us how to live,
As he fed the hungry,
Cared for the sick,
And ate with his friends.

We are thankful for the Holy Spirit who moves around us like the wind
And helps us to love each other,
By being kind to one another,
By saying nice words to each other,
And by making sure everyone has what they need.

Now, boys and girls, can you tell us what you are thankful for this morning?
(Let them name things, you and the teacher can name things as well)

(When everyone is done, you can show the children the bread and juice)

When we eat this bread and drink this juice,
We remember the night before Jesus died.

He gathered with his friends,
And he took the bread, broke it, and shared it, saying,
“This is my body, broken for you, remember me when you eat it.”

(Pass the bread to the teacher first so the children can see what’s going to happen. The teacher can eat the bread as you say, “[Name], this is the bread of life.” Then give a piece of bread each child, saying “[Name] this is the bread of life.”)

He also took the cup saying,
“This cup is like a new promise, sealed in my blood, when you drink it, remember me.”
(Pass the juice to the teacher and each child, saying, “[Name], this is the cup of new promise.”)

Pray: Thank you God for (you can name the things that the children mentioned) and thank you for these boys and girls. Now that we have shared this special meal together, help us to become more like Jesus. Amen.