Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Everyone has their reasons...

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I just resigned from the congregation I serve, in view of a call to another congregation. People's attitudes and responses about our announcement, as you may gather, have run the gamut. Many are sad, but understanding of our sense of call to another church. Some are hurt, while trying to be happy for us.  Others are rather ambivalent. A few are quietly looking forward to having a new pastor that will "fit" them better. Most, however, are just in the process of "processing". They are trying to figure everything out.

Out of all the churches I have served, I think this church is probably the most surprised that we are leaving. Part of this has to do with their pattern of pastoral leadership. United Churches has had a history of long pastorates (although the Baptist pastors have had shorter run here generally). My pastoral tenure was more average in length. This "surprise factor" has left people more active in their conversations with me trying to make sense of our departure from their perspective.

I have had several conversations where people have asked me pointed questions, some to confirm their theories, and others to simply to get a deeper understanding. Some of our old folks are concerned that other church have been attacking us, and quietly running us out of the church.  Others say that the church's willingness to not move forward and grow is what is causing us to leave. Some believe that we just want to go "home" to our own denomination, and feel the sense of connection and family that we have in denominational life that we might not experience in a federated church. Some people assume we are simply "leveling-up" to a church with better pay, prestige, and influence. I generally have vague responses about sensing God's leading, and needing to follow that sense as the reason we went. This satisfies some, but many continue to probe and question. This makes sense. People are grieving.

What intrigues me is that each person dealing with this issue has to come to their own rationalization about why this is happening. Some ask for more answers. But many, and I don't mean this harshly, choose to put the words in our mouth whether we accept them or not. They, in their processing, have to make their own meaning out of the pastoral transition. They have a hard time just accepting the change. Or grieving the change with sadness or anger. They have to begin by rationalizing why I have resigned. Everyone has their reasons. A lot of times, one persons rationalization is a lot different from another person's ideas.

I think part of the rationalization phase of dealing with pastoral transition is necessary. When something changes, people want to make sense of that change.

I think the Baptist transition structure forces this kind of thinking more as well. In a Methodist system, a congregation and a pastor (ideally) begin to communicate about when they think a transition is appropriate, and nobody is taken by surprise. In Baptist life, because of the tenuousness of a pastoral call being extended or accepted, conversations are rarely had with leadership within the church.

And, part of the challenge of with our sense of call in moving somewhere else is that I don't really have all the answers that I can put into words for people either. For me, it is sensing where God is leading me, where the kingdom can use my gifts and abilities best, and what is good for my family. And while many of the "rationales" that people come up contain some truth, there are also other issues that are involved, and some reasons for leaving have nothing to do with a failing here or a asset there but other ways in which we have sensed God speaking to us.

So then, readers and friends, what are your experiences in pastoral transitions? How have you made sense of a person leaving to a new ministry? How have you navigated this transition as a pastor or leader yourself. I would love to hear your comments.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Review of Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures by John Goldingay

Front Cover

Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures
by John Goldingay
ISBN 978-0-8308-515-9
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

As a pastor who strives to be, at some level, an armchair pastor-theologian, I love this book. Biblical Theology has both scholarly rigor and accessibility to thinking Christian persons who are not necessarily theologically trained.

With many books that I read, I skip over the introduction. With this book, reading the introduction is a must. It carefully explains the author's intent and goals with the whole book, and in doing so is essential in understanding why Goldingay does what he does. He is not seeking to do a systematic theology, through which we draw out specific Scriptures to fit theological categories. Instead, he is seeking to draw out the main themes about God and humanity from the Scriptures themselves, allowing different strands with different emphasis to stand next to one another instead of conflating them into a systematic belief system. Thoroughly grounded in Scripture as story, Goldingay shows how different strands of thought weave together to describe God's story in relationship to us.

As you read through the chapters in this theology, you will see that the focus is on the personhood and action of God. This is not a theological anthropology. It is a book designed to paint a lengthy, thoughtful, and beautiful word picture of the God of the Scripture, a God that Goldingay clearly knows and loves himself.

I recommend this book for folks that like to think, to read deeply, and to know God more intimately. It may be challenging reading for some, but it will be rewarding reading for all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

From the The Manhood of the Master by Henry Emerson Fosdick

Our own experience suggests that power is always accompanied by the power to misuse it, and that the greater the power, the more self-restraint it requires to use it aright. Great temptations keep company with great powers. The little man fighting his little battles fighting little battles wishes he were the great man so that the more easily he might overcome them.....

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Kids and breakfast

The other day when I was in Martin, SD for a memorial, a small group of old man had gathered around the graveside. While the rest of the family was elsewhere, the old locals were gathered under the tent beside the body. They were locals. They talked about many things. They speculated on who was going to die next. They spoke about which nursing homes in Western South Dakota was the best. And then they got in an intense conversation about cereal. 

Apparently the cereal industry is struggling. People have been told by cereal companies not to grow cereal related products. Why? Because less and less kids are fed cereal for breakfast. Then I thought, you know that makes sense. We never do cereal for breakfast. I'm sure a it if people still do cereal, but I bet there are also lots of folks like us that go for other breakfast foods. We almost always do sausage. Then some sort of bread and grain.

What about you? How do you do breakfast for your kids? Does it include breakfast cereal?

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

What should a Baptist preacher wear on Sundays.....(even one in a ecumenical church)

So, every once in a while I give some thought to what is appropriate for a pastor to wear on Sunday mornings for worship. Each choice has their drawbacks, and each choice has something to offer. I have used most of these wardrobe options at one point or another. Let us examine the options:

The suit/tie (and for females perhaps the pantsuit or classy dress)--
Wearing a suit and a tie shows that you, as a pastor, are a serious professional. It is the wardrobe of commerce, business, and politics. The wearing of a suit communicates that you, the pastor, care about your appearance, and thus care about enough about your congregation and the Lord to come to worship looking like you could sell stocks, or at least be a good car salesman.

The tie and no suit (for females the skirt/blouse combo)--
This is for the person who wants to dress like they are going to a semi-formal dance in high school instead of going to a job interview. This is also the choice for you if you want to look classy, but perhaps think the shiny suits should be left for televangelists. With this wardrobe you look at best like a school teacher, or at worst a new employee at Enterprise car rental. Variations on this look include the khaki/white shirt/tie combo, the sweatervest/slacks/tie combo, or the dress shirt/sportcoat/jeans combo.

The robe
I spent my first several years in ministry without owning a robe. Then I moved to a high rent downtown congregation who generously bought a robe for me the first week. For the leadership of the congregation, it was a way of placing a giant curtain over the gargantuan human that was behind the robe. The thought went, "Our associate pastor is fat, but if we just throw a big robe on him people wont see his fat nearly as much when he is in the pulpit."

 And, it was a less expensive alternative than buying a suit that costs a months wages than more upwardly mobile persons in the congregation insisted I wear on Sundays (I now regret not spending the church's money on those high rent suits they insisted I have in order to effectively minister to our community).

Depending on the robe, a robe either communicates academic accomplishment, ascetic discipline, or legal authority (judges wear black robes). I have a reformation robe, which probably communicates the latter.

There are several advantages of wearing a robe. It does have a certain "leveling" effect, at least in less high rent circles, for the pastor. It allows a certain ease in wardrobe. There is a certain uniformity to it. That is until one decides to "level up" with fancier stoles and such.

I like that the robe communicates a more ministerial uniform--that it is not just borrowing from contemporary professional standards. But, I do think that if you put a pastor on a platform, behind a pulpit, with a robe you erect a number of barriers between the pastor and the congregation that can make intimate, meaningful connection more difficult.

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The "collar" (can be accessorized with a large cross)
At first the black shirt with the white collar poking through in the middle, share and stiff like a Hitler mustache around one's neck, I thought was primarily for Episcopalians, Catholics, and a few Lutherans. More and more though, I see this outfit worn by folks of all stripes.

The advantages for you in wearing such a shirt are numerous. The first advantage is that you don't have to think about it or plan your wardrobe too much. It can also easily identify you by your role, much like a doctor wearing a white coat. Black can be a slimming color. The history of the outfit is also inspiring, as the collar was supposed to represent your belonging to Christ as his slave or bondservant.

I have never tried this outfit, though I have to say it is primarily for practical reasons. I don't tuck in my shirts unless I am wearing a suit. I don't like any collar too close to my neck, even turtleneck sweatshirts.

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The hipster

This outfit has variations across generations, cultures, and settings. For instance, for the more youthful crowd, this may include skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. For Rick Warren, it meant wearing Hawaiian shirts for years (I have done this one). Often it is purposefully dressed down, but it dressed down with a purpose; namely to identify with a certain group of people.

When you dress as the "hipster", you are communicating that you want to identify with a generation or crowd you are trying to reach (other young hipsters, or other people who would rather be at the beach). You are often, by "dressing down", trying to connect with folks.

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So, those are the primary options I see among pastors I know. I am sure there is more, but they are not coming to mind immediately. So, my question to you is, what do you think is most appropriate for a pastor on worship days, and why?


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