Month: November 2011


Criticism: Is it Killing the Church?

If there is one thing that the church (and perhaps all of society) is filled with it is this: criticism. Let’s admit it. We are really good at critique. We critique our experience of worship. We critique our leaders. We critique ourselves. We critique.

There is always something we could have done better. There is always something more we could do. There is always something that wasn’t quite good enough.

Well guess what: criticism is killing the church. Yes, I am going to just come out and say it but criticism is a problem for us. (Yes, I get that in righting this post it is a critique of how we critique) Analysis is an important part of life for individuals and equally for institutions. We only change and get better if we are analyzing how we are doing, but I have noticed a trend that often our “de facto” position is one of negative critique rather than starting with positive analysis.

I understand this first hand because of my experience in my first church. I can admit that much of what I wrote about in the above paragraphs aptly describes my own “de facto” analysis of the world around me, but I have begun to see how life draining this can be both personally and to those around me. I can quickly see the possibilities that exist within the church and it was no different in that first appointment. My mistake was using negative critique rather than starting from positive analysis. Want to guess how my first 1.5 years there went? The church was miserable and I was miserable. We got stuck in a rut together because we were full of attitudes of what was wrong. However, thanks to some guidance from my district superintendent I began to celebrate what we were doing well and the attitude within the church began to change and my attitude began to change.

I see this in my children also. My oldest son struggles with reading. When I work with him on his reading my instant reaction is to point out when he says a word wrong. Want to guess what happens? He gets discouraged and thinks he can’t do it and this in turn frustrates me and the cycle continues. The frustrating part for me is that I know he can do it. However, I am part of the problem because of the way I work with him. (Something I am working on from a parenting perspective) He feels the pressure and it causes him to “not want to fail.” This is different than him “wanting to succeed.” It really is like the “half empty glass” or “half full glass” perspectives. About a month ago when I was walking with Micah to school we played a game.  I would point to something and say what it was and have him try to spell it. It was a playful time and my attitude was much different than when I would work with him on homework. Instead of pointing out how he was wrong, I would celebrate when he spelled it correctly (these were some tough words) and when he got it wrong I told him how close he was and how his thinking was right but this word was tricky and then told him how it was spelled. I noticed something different in his attitude as we did this. Instead of being de-motivated and wanting to just be done with it, Micah was motivated and wanted to continue the game. The only difference was I was using positive analysis rather than negative critique.

I really have begun to look around and have started taking note of the way we say things and the way we write things within the church. I am noticing that a significant majority of our writing comes from a “negative critique” stance and I wonder if it isn’t part of what is killing us as a church (both from an inside and outside perspective). Could it be that something so simple as changing our attitudes and the way we interact with one another and lead within the church could be the key to “renewal?”  I am beginning to think so and I am personally working on this myself as a leader within the church and as an individual. (Something that is very difficult and will take serious reflection and practice) I believe we all want the same thing. We all want to see the church be everything that the church can be. We all want to see the world transformed through the church living into its mission of participating in God’s making of disciples.

Perhaps this is part of the “adaptive challenge” facing the church. Perhaps it isn’t about “technical things” like small groups, contemporary music options, and great leaders but rather about our attitudes in leadership and within the church.  What do you think? As you think about this, I would love for you to take note of the things you read and what you hear from leaders and others. As you take note, try to notice the underlying attitude of the communication: is it “positive analysis” or is it “negative critique.”


Renewal: Final Reflections on Exploration 2011

And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.  (Hebrews 4:8-11 The Message)

It is interesting how God moves in unexpected ways.  I went to Exploration to encourage others and to be a part of that discernment process through sharing my experiences and thoughts.  I went expecting to help others (which I hope I did), but in the end I left with a renewed sense of my own call.

Its hard to describe, but I feel like I have been wandering in my own little desert like the Israelites did between Egypt and the promised land.  Like the Israelites longing to go back to Egypt, I have been playing with thoughts of longing to go back to the days of simple labor like I had at BH Electronics as an inventory control clerk.  I have been struggling to see the promised land, to see that God is still on this journey and has given us a “live promise.”  Just like Israel, I couldn’t see the possibilities in the promised land, I was only caught up in the day to day life of ministry and not able to see the future.

It is hard to say this, but I felt like I was going to Exploration following a path like Moses, unable to enter the promised land but able to see it and to pass on the leadership to Joshua.  However, God sometimes has different plans.  I went seeing an end but God meant it for a beginning.  Shalom Agtarap shared an insight that captures it well in her message on Sunday morning when she asked, “Have you ever mistaken the beginning of something with the end?”

Seeing all of these fellow young adults (6-13 years younger than me….man I am getting old) excited about God and wrestling with their call reminded me the future is bright when it is in God’s hands.  God is with us on this journey but so often it is easy to forget that and to only think about and focus on our “misery” from day to day.  The truth is that leading the church in the midst of this paradigm shift (see Bob Farr Renovate or Die) is not going to be easy and many people really cannot see what the “promised land” looks like and so they will long for the way things were back in “Egypt.”  It isn’t going to be easy, but after spending this 48 hours with fellow young clergy, and other young Christians hearing God’s call and responding, I am assured that this is where God has called me.

God has called me to this difficult but amazing work and I am assured that God is with me.  These are my final reflections on Exploration, but I do not think these reflections are just for me.  My hope is that those who read this might see the possibilities of how God can move in unexpected ways if we listen for the “whisper” for as Adam Hamilton shared on Friday night, “God hardly ever shouts…God whispers.”


Losing Your Life to Christ and The Call

What an amazing day at Exploration. I spent most of the day facilitating a workshop entitled: “Living in a Fishbowl: Being a Young Adult in Ministry” which was a panel discussion on any questions the participants might have about ministry. It was a great time and was such a blessing to hear the questions that were asked. The questions revealed that many are really wrestling with a call from God and in what capacity that call may be lived out in their lives.

If I were to give any theme to my day of conversations, questions, and experiences it has been this: “Where is God calling me?”

We started off Exploration by talking about our call to ministry that extends to everyone in their baptism and today was narrowing that down to wrestling with and responding to what specific avenue each individual is called to walk down. From some of the conversations I had there seemed to be a struggle within some individuals around ordained vs. lay ministry. One individual shared with me that from that individual’s perspective it seemed like ordained ministry was being communicated the most important ministry. So I wanted to reflect in this space on that subject.

First, lets name something for what it is. Often when anyone seems to have a serious response to their baptismal call, individuals in the church want to encourage that individual to explore and consider ordained ministry. This can often lead to a sense that “ordained” ministry is the only “real” ministry, but I would argue that those individuals aren’t saying that ordained ministry is superior but rather trying to make sure individuals consider that God may be calling them to ordained ministry.

You see I think this comes from a very real thing: ordained ministry can be scary for many people and often individuals never think they are “gifted enough” or “qualified” for ordained ministry or that ordained ministry is even a possibility for them. Often if it isn’t named or encouraged people will hear that call from God and think it can’t be toward ordained ministry. I think many people feel the call of God upon their life but the natural reaction is to think it is everywhere but ordained ministry.

But you see God does call people to ordained ministry and the church wants to be faithful to that call and help people listen and respond. I am reminded of the call of Samuel. Samuel would not have understood his call in the way he did if he didn’t have Eli helping him and naming for him the call God was putting on his life.

For those of you reading this who are attending Exploration, I want you to hear this: God is calling you. It may be to ordained ministry or it may be to lay ministry, but either way God is calling you. That is the journey of discernment. You have to open your life to the possibilities God may be calling you to and listen. The reason for an event like Exploration is to help everyone understand that they are called but to specifically create space where people can see the possibilities that God is calling them to lead the church in ordained ministry. It is not that it is better but rather that it is a reality for some.

In the end though, the challenge is for the church to really understand its call to celebrate and teach the call upon everyone in their baptism. I was struck during Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.’s sermon with the way he framed discipleship. I purposefully use discipleship because I believe he pointed to the reality of the “call” upon all of us as Christians who are re-made in Christ. Bishop Hayes talked about losing our life to Christ in order to find it. At that point I was struck with this thought which I tweeted: “Here is what I know: If the 700+ gathered here lose their life to Christ it won’t matter if it is ordained or lay.”

That is the truth. The future of the church depends on those gathered in Christ’s name truly surrendering their lives and losing it to Christ. When that begins to happen en masse we will see the Church live into the great blessing Christ has called it to be.

Will you lose your life to Christ and live out that new life in Christ in whatever capacity God may have gifted and called you to live it out?

Exploration Profile #3

Name: Lindsey Baynham

Age: 24

Location: Newport News, Virginia

Stage in Life: 3rd year M.Div Student at Duke Divinity School

What brought you to Exploration?: I am representing Duke Divinity and was asked to be a small group leader. So I am just hanging out at the table sharing my experience and facilitating conversation for people exploring a call to ministry.

Who was or is most influential in your sense of call?: It has definitely been through relationships. Through former pastors and my home pastor now kind of showed me that women could serve as pastors.

What excites you the most about the church and serving Christ? What we are seeing right here. Young people feeling a sense of call and just wanting to be involved in growing the church and serving Christ.

What scares you the most about the church and serving Christ? Being young and being taken seriously as we enter into leadership in whatever form it presents itself.

What do you see as the greatest strength of the church? Our diversity. I think people bring different things to the table and when we are able to just listen and talk with one another that is where we see the growth and when we see Christ.

What do you see as the greatest challenge to the church? We have to start thinking outside the box. We have to remain faithful to our tradition and where we came from but we also need to look forward at how we can be brining forth the Kingdom of God.


Exploration Profile #2

Name: Brittney Stephan

Age: 18

Location: Huntington, Indiana

Stage in Life: Freshman at Butler University

What brought you to Exploration?: I came here with a group from the Indiana Conference. I was emailed and asked if I wanted to come along and share about my journey and learn more about The United Methodist Church and what it has to offer.

Who was or is most influential in your sense of call?: One of the most influential people in my call has been my pastor Marty. She (Marty) has been there for me every step of the way and served as my candidacy mentor and so we have grown close along the way.

What excites you the most about the church and serving Christ? Just the atmosphere to come together as the Body of Christ and to serve God with all of our gifts and talents.

What scares you the most about the church and serving Christ? Probably the fact that it is in decline and I am very aware that the church in general is in decline.

What do you see as the greatest strength of the church? I would say it is fellowship and coming together knowing you have a community to support you.

What do you see as the greatest challenge to the church? The age process and how there are fewer young adults in the ministry paths and how that might effect the church and its ability to reach out to present and future generations.