Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sacred Bundles and Cows

Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*

My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish.  It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose.  In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.”  The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.” 

The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are.  Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes.  Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963.  Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing.  It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services. 

The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows.  The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen.  I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad.  A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation.  For some congregations this process might take even longer.

It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen.  When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation.  The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be. 

However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well.  Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future?  Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own?  Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road?  Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?


Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.”  Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation.  We cannot add more sacred cows.  True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go?  We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?


*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr's pdf called "50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

As Fast As the Last

The work of adaptive change requires an open heart to respect and appreciate the pains of change that you are asking people to sustain. - Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky
 (“Leading with an Open Heart,” Leader to Leader, Fall 2002, 33.)

I have attempted to step back now and then, as I move a congregation through revitalization, to make sure I am bringing people along.  My brain is wired to think far ahead but I know that is not the case for everyone.  I am usually thinking two years ahead and then working back from there to see what steps or direction we need to be heading as a church.  I can get so caught up in my steps and planning that I forget to tell people what is happening.

For United Methodist Pastors it can be hard to remember the pain we are putting people in as we create and move a congregation into change.  We may be moving into a better form of Church and keeping what are core values are (see previous post for more) but do we recognize the pain associate with that.  Do we respect it?  Do we honor it?  Do we ignore it?  Do we speak to it?

One of the greatest moves I have witnessed in my congregation was the willingness for our senior’s Sunday School to move classrooms.  In other congregations, I have witnessed a vise grip on classrooms and they have been seen as sacred space.  Our nursery needed to move.  It was tucked into the corner of the first floor of our Education building.  It was way in the back and hard to get to.  There would be no way a guest would be able to find it.  We also (with the addition of my two kids) had more children in the nursery at that time and the space was too small for the amount of kids we had.  When I approached the class about possibly moving to give more space for the nursery, they did so happily and with pride.

They moved to another room right off the Sanctuary, which is smaller and doesn’t provide limited noise buffering from anything happening in the sanctuary.  There have been some pains since that transition and I admit there are times when I don’t give it much thought.  But their class has grown and they are filling up that space now.  The question I have to continue to ask myself is how can I continue to serve and honor them as we change?  My worry is that they will feel we are pushing them again with more change.  They might feel left out, ignored, or cast aside.  Yet they are a core of who we are and they are doing vital ministry within our congregation.  I cannot ignore them nor the pains we are asking them to endure as a class.


Change is a lot like hiking with a group of people.  You can only go as fast as the last person.  As a church leader we have to continue to look backwards and see who is at the back of the pack.  How are they doing and how are they reacting to the journey we all are going on.  This doesn’t mean you stop moving forward but it does mean you are doing it together without leaving people behind. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Prayer for this National Day of Prayer

This is the prayer I will pray at Indian Trail's National Day of Prayer service held at my church, Indian Trail UMC.

National Day of Prayer: 

Let us pray, creator God, you imbedded into humanity in your image and it is because that divine spark that each one of us strives to know you.  Long ago people came to this country because they desired religious freedom.  They were striving to find a new place to live their faith openly and properly.  We give you thanks that our country, the United States of America, still allows us to worship freely, openly and without fear of punishment or persecution.  Lord God, you have blessed America, and for that we give you thanks….Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.

God of love, today as a nation, we have set aside a time for prayer and we give you thanks for this gift.  Prayer is a time we can connect with you, our God.  It is a time that we empty our soul into you but also a time when we are quiet and listen to you speak into us.  As we come together to pray today, may we talk and lift up our concerns and dreams but may we also listen to how you are directing us and speaking to us this morning… Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.

Prayer is also a time of confession and we would not use this time justly if we did not confess our sins to you, forgiving Father.  We are a nation who’s history, both past and recent, is soaked in blood and turmoil.  We ask your forgiveness for how we as a nation have not lived up to the ways that you have taught us to live.  We pray for the native people who lived hear before the explorers claim to discover them.  We pray for the settlers who came to find freedom but found indentured servitude instead.  We pray for the slaves that were brought over and whose backs broke building and farming our nation.  We pray for the immigrant who arrived on Elis Island with big dreams and hopes but only found corruption and starvation.  Lord we pray for the current crisis in our country now as communities and cities work through the injustice, fear and hate between residents and police.  Lord, we ask for your forgiveness and your peace today…Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.

Gracious God, we have come so far as a nation.  We are one of the richest countries in the world and you have blessed America.  Yet, we also have children who are homeless and hungry.  We have people who are struggling even thought they work two jobs.  We have cities and towns that are thriving and others that are dying.  Now the divide between rich and poor is growing ever wider and how wide that gulf gets is unknown.  So Lord, we pray to you, we reach out to you, to show us the way and teach us how to live and treat each other with dignity and respect.  Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for this beautiful land we call our home.  We thank you for the wonderful gift of the resources and splendor that is our country.  May we always recognize it’s beauty.  As we gaze upon blue hued mountains or emerald seas; as we hear the rush of traffic or trains and yet can still smell the sweet scent of fresh cut grass; may we never take this gift for granted.  May we strive to be stewards of this land like you have commanded and leave it in good standings for generations to come.  Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.

Lord, we lift up the leaders of our country.  We pray for our Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government.  We pray for our President and Vice-President and their families.  We pray for the leaders of our state, our governor and his family.  We pray for those who lead this town, our mayor and council members and their families.  Lord, we pray for wisdom and guidance in their lives.  As all of these people, who truly are simply people, guide, direct and lead our country, state and town, we pray that their hearts be open to your will.  May our leaders never be far from our prayers… Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.

Look graciously, O Lord, upon this land.  Where it is in pride, subdue it.  Where it is in need, supply it.  Where it is in error, rectify it.  Where it is in default, restore it.  And where it holds to that which is just and compassionate, support it.  Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer. 

For it is in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Change and a Better Me


People will change only if they believe that a new insight, a new idea, or a new form helps them become more of who they are.  - Margaret J. Wheatley(Leadership and the New Science, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1999), 148.) 

This quote comes from Lovett H. Weems, Jr's pdf called "50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church.  I am going to use some of these 50 quotes to spur some blog posts on leadership and change from my experiences in Revland.

Often time in the midst of change people fear that it will change who they are.  Change does this but not at a core level.  What makes us who we are at our core is essential to who we are and that is what we fear might change when something new happens. 

When I became a father I really wasn’t nervous about the change coming to our family.  My wife and I were excited about this “something new” coming into our lives.  I had no clue what was in store for me as a new father but I knew I was excited about it.  Now, having two children, I tell soon-to-be fathers and mothers that the best way to describe it is to put your life down on a piece of paper.  Take that piece of paper and get in your car.  Drive your car down the highway at 70mph.  Then open your window and throw your paper/life out the window.  Once a child enters your life, it is never the same.  Everything is different but you never want it to go back.

The act of change scares many people because they are worried it will effect everything.  The truth is though, while everything changed for me when I had a child and now children, I am still me.  I have different roles to play now.  Life is different but I am still me.  In fact I feel I am more me now then when I was single or newly married.  When the kids move away and it is just my wife and I again, things will change but I will still be me. 

As a congregation moves through change one of the biggest things that clergy should pay attention to is what makes that church…that church.  What is its core values.  What draws people in and connects them to God.  When you define those core values then you can freely do different things, reminding people along the way the core values never change it just may be done differently.

Too often this gets left out of the conversation or pushed to the back burner.  Instead we should concentrate on those values, preach them, celebrate them, honor them and then remind them, preach them, celebrate them, honor them as change happens.  This will allow the church as a whole to take the journey together and not feel like they will lose themselves along the way.  Then they will be excited about the new thing because it will help them become more of who they are.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Power of Listening

We have forgotten James 1:19; "Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to grow angry." (CEB)

The stance of the United Methodist Church on homosexuality has been a hot topic for a very long time...ok that is probably a huge understatement.  As discussion of General Conference in 2016 start to ramp up and all the talk about schism, I have noticed, for a long time now, how horrible the internet has gotten.  We, as Christians, as United Methodists, as human beings, have forgotten how to listen to one another.

As a member of some Facebook United Methodist Groups, as I read posts, my heart aches because of the inability of my brothers and sisters in Christ to actually listen, to "be quick to listen."  I find comment treads get derailed so easily that no real discussion happens.  It is only yelling with the hope that the opinion being shouted out sticks.

I completely understand how touchy and heated this discussion over homosexuality and the church's stance is.  As I have wrestled with this issue and explored the scriptural basis on each side, I have realized there is really no discussion happening anymore.  There is no conversation, online at least.  Have we arrived at the place that we have moved beyond that now?  Are we at the place that now where people are only digging in their heels and trying to shout over each other?  Have we moved beyond discussion and holy conversation?

Proverbs 21:23 says, "Those who guard their mouths and their tongues guard themselves from trouble."  Listening is learning to actually keep your mouth closed in order to let the other person talk.  Instead, many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have forgotten this and rely on being internet trolls instead.

If each side of the table has it all figured out...there is no conversation anymore.  If we have all the answers then who needs to listen to the other side.  There is no dialogue when we yell at how 'unbiblical' a person is for their interpretation of scripture.  There is no conversation when people are called ignorant, simple, closed minded, or heretics.

The joy I find in the United Methodist Church is that we don't subscribe to one train of thought.  We have permission to disagree on things and still call each other United Methodist.  We can lean conservative or liberal (whatever the hell those unBiblical terms mean) and still join together to bring about the Kingdom of God.  Our connection is not based on agreement of social issues but instead is based on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Maybe that is it.  In our haste to loosen our mouths and let our tongues flap without worry, we have convinced ourselves that we have all the answers.  We yell, "See it my way!" and will attempt to scream until every person follows suit.  We have forgotten the power of listening, hearing the other side, and understanding one another.

We have forgotten that we are to be like Nicodemus.  Even though he was trying to wrap his head around what Jesus was saying but couldn't comprehend it, he eventually just shut up and listened to Jesus.  He stopped wondering "how" it was all to be and instead attempted to soak it all in.  My hope is that we will learn to be better listeners.  Through listening we will convey love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters.  Through listening to Jesus we will gain understanding in what love and grace truly looks like.