Leadership

The Need to Be Relevant

Homeless man, wrangler / Shutterstock.com

Homeless man, wrangler / Shutterstock.com

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to spend the night at the Metropolitan House Men’s Shelter, part of Washington, D.C.’s, Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church.

And in this experience, Henri Nouwen’s, In the Name of Jesus came to life for me. In reflecting on his own experience of transitioning from Harvard University to L’Arche, a house for mentally disabled individuals, Nouwen realized he had to rediscover his true identity. Up until that moment, Nouwen relied on his accomplishments, achievements, accolades, educational training, and social connections to legitimize his impact and reputation in ministry as a priest. However, at L’Arche none of the things he relied on seemed to matter, and he had to gain credibility with those he planned to serve — the mentally disabled. Nouwen states, “I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment” (28). Nouwen was forced to let go of his “relevant” self. Nouwen defines relevant self as, “the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things.” Nouwen would have to allow himself to become vulnerable while suppressing his “relevant” self.

Honoring Your Church

When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012. Via oldtractortinshed.net/?p=591

Headline news is usually bad news. Viral blog posts are usually polemical. And those “way-too-long” conversations on Facebook and Twitter are often based in controversy. Pain, division, and anger drive on-line traffic and often directs the content.

And church news is little different: pastor so-and-so is embroiled in a moral failing; church such-and-such fired its pastor over leadership differences; and the seminary down the street let go a professor over theological issues. The list goes on and on.

Isn’t it time for something different?

How about a little good news? What about a viral campaign about churches doing well? Well, here is my modest attempt to say a good word about our church community.

VIDEO: The Real-Life Vicar of Dibley

In “What I Learned by Marrying a Priest” (Sojourners, April 2014), Jim Wallis shares some of the lessons learned from his wife, Rev. Joy Carroll Wallis, one of the first women ordained in the Church of England.

Joy also helped to inspire The Vicar of Dibley, a British sitcom that follows the life of a female priest. Watch this video of Joy discussing the importance of The Vicar of Dibley and women’s leadership in the church.

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What I Learned by Marrying a Priest

JOY CARROLL and I were married in 1997. A year later, we had our first son, Luke. We met at a delightful British festival of faith, the arts, and justice called Greenbelt. Joy—a Brit—was on the Greenbelt board and also one of the speakers, as was I. We were on a panel together in a tent with a couple thousand young people, and that’s where our relationship began. I had coffee with Joy afterward, and she told me about the long journey women had made toward ordination in the Church of England.

Joy had been trained as a priest at Durham, just the same as the men, but at that time wasn’t able to be ordained to the priesthood. Her first parish was in a housing estate (what we would call a housing project) in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood with lots of drugs and violence—a place where male priests were afraid to take their families. As a deacon, Joy moved in to live and work in the housing estate, doing everything a priest would do except celebrate the Eucharist, which was still reserved for males only. At age 29, she was elected to the church’s General Synod—its youngest member—and in November 1992 she cast a vote for women’s ordination. Joy went on to become one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

When Luke was 4 years old, we found ourselves back at Greenbelt, again as speakers. Sunday morning is always a high point at the Greenbelt festival, with creative and powerful worship that draws most of the 20,000 in attendance. Joy was on the main stage as the chief celebrant of the Eucharist, while Luke cuddled on my lap, carefully watching his mother at the altar. He looked up at me and asked, “Dad, can men do that too?”

Having a woman celebrating the Eucharist that day was a moving, freeing, and emotional experience for many who were there—women and men. But it just seemed normal to a little boy watching his mom and wondering if he might be able to do that someday himself.

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When Leaders Let You Down

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.

(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)

So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:

  • a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
  • a pastor who had an affair,
  • a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.

Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.

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?

Only 19 Percent Are Women

Photo: Blend Images / Shutterstock

Last week, a controversy erupted over Twitter when it came to light that a prominent evangelical conference with 110 speakers only had four women on stage.

Journalist Jonathan Merritt, did a quick informal study and discovered that out of 34 prominent evangelical conferences, only 19 percent of speakers at plenary sessions were women.

This is a problem.

As a white male evangelical and a black female evangelical who spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, events, and college campuses, we know from experience this is a problem.

Conference spaces have become one of the primary discipleship spaces for evangelicals. These are the spaces where evangelicals go to learn all that it means to be a follower of Jesus.

On Accountability: The Buck Never Stops

healthcare.gov

healthcare.gov

It was a strange, but telling, spectacle when those who billed the government millions for working on its Affordable Health Care registration system denied any accountability for the portal’s astounding failure.

“The other guy did it,” as they say in court. The client kept changing specs, no one did any whole-system testing, other vendors are to blame — blah, blah, blah.

Whatever shred of truth lay in their blame-shifting ran up against another wall of non-accountability. The Republicans did it with their insane sequestration, said Democrats. The Democrats did it, said the GOP. Health and Human Services did it. The Oval Office did it.

In the end, of course, no one will accept accountability, for we live in an age when the “buck” never stops on one’s own desk, if it stops at all.

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