Church

Four Reasons Churches Stink at Transformation (and What We Can Do About It)

Sean Palmer

Sean Palmer's transformation. Courtesy

Though we have many stories of people whose lives have been made better, few church leaders would argue that far too many people in the pew make significant spiritual transformations even though they’ve spent years in and around churches.

In my other life, I’m a fitness “coach.” I’m not so much a coach as I am an encourager and friend. The unrivaled aspect of working with people to reach their fitness goals is having a front row seat for transformation. We take pictures to note physical transformations, but changes in physique aren’t the most important ones. The most important transformations are spiritual and emotional ones. And quite frankly, the fitness community does transformations better than churches do.

Why?

Swept Under the Rug

Alexander Motrenko/Shutterstock

Sexual harassment and abuse to clergy, specifically clergywomen, is often swept under the rug. Alexander Motrenko/Shutterstock

Today churches are often rocked with sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated by priests and clergy. Yet, sexual harassment and abuse to clergy, specifically clergywomen, is often swept under the rug.

A 2007 study by the United Methodist Church on sexual harassment and abuse found that nearly 75 percent of Methodist clergy women have experienced sexual harassment and abuse. The common settings for such harassment are church meetings and offices where perpetrators are mostly men and increasingly laity. “Sexual harassment destroys community. This alienating sinful behavior causes brokenness in relationships,” the study states.

Despite the prevalence of increased boundary training and education, the 2007 study found that only 34 percent of small churches and 86 percent of large churches have policies to handle such situations.

In 30 years of ministry, diaconal and ordained, I have seen that church politics, ignorance of or lack of policies and procedures, tolerance for inappropriate behavior, status of perpetrator, and money are obstacles to dealing with sexual harassment and abuse to clergy in a healthy way.

What If We Listened?

Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock

How about if we put down our dukes and listen? Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock

“The less engaged people are, the more they tend to criticize. The more engaged people are, they have far less time [and] energy with which to criticize.”

She might as well have completed the above statement with the dismissive wave I heard in her voice. But she didn’t.

She’s a pastor’s wife. Her bread and butter (and heart and soul) are wrapped up in the local church. I have been there. Perhaps the mile I walked in those shoes helps me understand the sentiment. And I think there is a place for tempering unjust criticism from sources that seem negatively biased. That protects people, sure.

But I can’t let it go at that.

The 25 Best Progressive Victories Of 2013

5. A Populist Pope: Occupy's message seems to have reached the Vatican, too. Pope Francis has consistently criticized the human and spiritual damage caused by global capitalism, widening inequality, and corporate sweatshops. In November, he released a remarkable 84-page document in which he attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny," criticized the "idolatry of money," and urged politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare." "Today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Pope Francis wrote. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Pope Francis is the most progressive pontiff since Pope Leo XIII, whose 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, focused attention on social justice and workers' rights at the dawn of modern industrial capitalism. There's no doubt that Pope Francis' public statements have boosted support for progressive movement in the U.S. and around the globe. He adds his voice to the growing number of faith-based groups in the U.S. -- including Network (the Catholic Social Justice lobby group and its offshoot, Nuns on the Bus), Sojourners, Interfaith Worker Justice, Bend the Arc (a Jewish justice group), PICO (a faith-based community organizing group), and others - who have expanded their efforts on behalf of workers' rights, immigrant rights, and the poor.

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