Category Archives: Leader Development

Why Rush?

In 1847, Ebenezer Davies, a visiting Englishman, was invited to preach while in Cincinnati.  Later he wrote, “At the close of the sermon, having pronounced the benediction, I engaged, according to English custom, in a short act of private devotion.  When I raised my head and opened my eyes, the very last man of the congregation was actually making his exit through the doorway; and it was quite as much as I could manage to put on my top-coat and gloves and reach the door before the sexton closed it.”  Ebenezer Davies, American Scenes and Christian Slavery; A Recent Tour of Four Thousand Miles in the United States.  (London; John Snow, 1849)

Americans have always been in a rush.  Sometimes we notice ourselves hurrying through time; sometimes we are astonished to find time has gone past faster than we expected; somehow we are always surprised to discover that rush and hurry don’t make us more efficient, that speed affords less profit than we imagined, that we get a hint of some other value we might want, when suddenly we are forced to stop a moment.

I’d bet that most intentional Christians in their own places of worship have had a hard half year–hard years are a norm, even with joy and gladness interspersed.  Congregational leaders have certainly had a hard half year so far—most are working for most of the time with fewer members than usual; at any given moment some were surprised by the former music director’s taking a new job in mid-year; some have not been able to raise up new leaders for essential ministries yet; all have kept up with hard work of getting their congregational house in order—learning how to plan for building maintenance rather than letting the building reach emergency needs first; learning how to become good stewards of the members’ trust in them; getting  finances from a state of savings and funds in many coffee cans to a gathered, intentionally ordered unity of giving and resources, planning how stewardship and giving will reflect the whole church and provide for the whole church’s work in mission and ministry.   The heaviness of the half year thus far might have made some feel anxious or pressed on them a sense of falling behind, but I’d be surprised if most meet and work in this way every month.  Some leaders have been changed by taking up the habit of praying together at the close of each meeting; some leadership groups  have taken on praying each for the members they represent and care for, in some order of grouped names each month.  Praying for their work and the people they are keeping house for, changes leaders, gives them a vibrancy in the Presence.

Bishop Ronald H. Haines has proved one of the five most influential people in my life.  He was an extraordinarily busy leader, working steadfastly while under rather constant attack from many of his peers for his decisions, including his decision to ordain the first openly lesbian priest in the Episcopal Church while he was Bishop of Washington, D.C.  He never sounded rushed or hurried, anxious or angry as he went about his work.  I knew him in retirement.  I asked him once why all these pressures did not affect him in that usual way.  “You should ask yourself:  what’s the good in that?” he said.  “Remember: it took a long time for things to get into the state they’re in; it’ll take a long time to make them better.  You can’t get to the end before you start, and you’ll never begin if you rush.  Nobody can really think in a hurry.  When I drop things and I get angry, I know I’m going too fast.”

Here’s an interesting thing:  It’s hard to hurry through evening prayer, especially if one is using a liturgical service like Compline.  The rhythm and language of the liturgy opens time to reveal us as we are, where we are, when we are:  always moving and breathing in God’s presence, in whom there is no rush or hurry that overlooks details, drops things, inclines to forgetfulness or defensive anger.  True:  we can’t keep from being American, from holding an almost instinctive impatience with whatever it is that holds us back from going fast and even faster.   But we can grow more mature as Christians by practicing the virtue of patience until we find ourselves formed more closely as the people God can call and into whom God can pour increasing energy  for worship, witness and service.

Your session, vestry, consistory, council, meets on a regular day of the month.  Why not take time at the end of the evening on those days, throughout the rest of this coming year, and read Compline yourself, or some other service of evening or night prayer, wherever you are, joining your leaders in prayer and praying for them by name, once a month, as they do the work of leadership you have laid on them for 2013?

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Filed under Accountability & Leader Development, Community Formation, Intelligent Christians in the 21st Century, Leader Development, Prayer in Leadership Work, Spiritual Formation, Stewardship Year-Round, Uncategorized

Don’t Bring Them In–Send Them Out!

It’s time for evangelism to get out of the church.

The standard line in churches now is ‘bring them in, call them home, give them the Good News inside–here.’

This is a real problem for Christians and churches everywhere in America.  For one thing, whether under the guise of ‘doing evangelism’ or being evangelical, the standard approach is also disingenuous because underneath it all, the plain point is getting more people together with your congregation, because they have more funds to tap to get the buildings and program out of debt and get the budget paid for–not to mention clergy and staff salaries.  Well, perhaps we should mention salaries.  They are a major reason that evangelism is self-centered, static and about ‘growing’ the church.

The deep point I want to make is that for at least 75 years now in American church life, Protestant churches–probably RC as well, have NOT been able to conceive of and get real things done, and have retreated consistently to the spongelike way of being that we see and experience everywhere in Christian communities now.  Getting things done, conceiving and organizing socially are hog-tied by all the questions about finance.

When I was growing up on the Presbyterian mission field, everything had to be paid for, or missionaries went home and projects shut down.  The mentality was strictly pay-as-you-go.  I am sure the change in fiscal probity occurred while I was an adult, but I must not have been really paying attention (though I was paying my pledge).  Perhaps the easy money of the late 90s and early 2000’s infected the church as well as the housing  market and the banks themselves.  After all, churches are wont to trust the banks more than  God–like that brutal truth or not.  (How many church leaders, clergy included, inarticulately assume that God will be asking to see the bank balance sheet on Judgment Day, and will certainly be rewarding all those who provided for themselves rather than waiting for God to give them the money they needed?) 

In all, this has twisted the point of evangelism so that seriously dedicated, regularly worshipping, constant givers and church leaders think that the way out of their debt-ridden endowment drawing problems is to bring in more members?  “We’ve tapped out our regular givers; our only serious answer is to get more members who will contribute,” is what I heard in the 1970s, and I’m still hearing this in 2011. 

Evangelism is NOT about getting more people into the church.  Evangelism is about spreading the Light, being the yeast, being salt, realizing and offering authentically Good News to people wherever they are, as it is truly relevant to those people, not as your church needs them for their money.  At least one way of learning to stop the heretical thinking about joining the Baptized in the Body of Christ.  Think twice.  Imagine the people you are hoping to reach, sitting in the pews of your church, without any money, and with a heart for worship and prayer.  Imagine them as doing enough if they come to worship.  Imagine giving proceeding from the feel of belonging that results from being at home in worship. 

Go out to affect the people whom Christ Jesus has within reach of your expression of compassion.  Don’t wait for these people to come in and find you in the pew next to them.  Go out and be salt, light and the Body of Christ where they are.  If they want to come back where you get your strength and nourishment for witness, hope they’re coming for the worship of Christ and not for what they’ll eventually put in the plate.  When  they want to belong to the Body of Christ where you are, that’s the time when belonging is important and giving is essential.  Don’t skip over the terribly essential part of witnessing without the expectation of gain.  That’s the only way the winsome light of Christ will move through you into someone else.



Filed under Evangelism, Leader Development