scriptural connections

Indignation vs. indifference

"JEEEE-susss, it's no fair. Mary is making me do all the work. Make her help meeee." This quote is often used to pit Martha against her sister in Luke 10:40, thus retconning the catfight trope into holy scripture itself. Not only does the typical translation of these women's relationship set up a false binary between doing and being, service and leadership, it keeps us from more deeply seeing ourselves reflected in the scripture.

Martha says, "Tell Mary to get off her behind." She speaks to Jesus with the confidence of someone who knows her hearer will certainly see her side. Instead: "Sorry, Martha. I'm enjoying this conversation with your sister." If she'd had access to an ice pack, Martha would no doubt have used it on her floor-bruised jaw and her indignant-red cheeks.

How often do we approach God authoritatively, knowing God will agree with us? If you're like me, it's more often than I care to admit. "Not my will, but thi...yada, yada, yada, I'm sure you'd like to bless me with good weather for my road trip and a change of attitude for that person who has been a thorn in my side and a new on-sale dress for Easter."

Whole congregations can do this too. We pray for more people to join our membership - because God must want that for us - but what if we're already the right size to do the job God has for us? We pray for more resources, but what if more money leads to more distractions and excuses from spiritual growth and disciple-making? To the best of my understanding, God doesn't think in the same categories and metrics that we do.

This is what makes the prayer of indifference - a key component of discernment - so important and so hard. It means acknowledging our short-sightedness. It means giving up some control. But unless we can offer prayers that sound like, "Here's what I'm worried about, please do your God thing" without prescribing what we'd like that God thing to look like, we're too attached to a particular outcome. That means limiting God, or at least limiting our openness to God.

The prayer of indifference is made a bit easier by cultivating a habit of gratitude. Noting where God has been at work in, around, and through us in big and small ways reminds us that our faith in God's presence and goodness is warranted. God doesn't do on-demand prayer responses, but God hasn't abandoned us yet.

In what areas might your congregation pray for indifference? How might developing a gratitude as a default posture help?

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash.

Ten commandments for welcoming your new pastor, part 2

Here are my translations of the sixth through tenth commandments into practices for congregations to covenant around when welcoming their new ministers. (You can find the first five here.)

6. Thou shalt encourage, encourage, encourage. Share your hopes with your new minister. Express your excitement that your minister is part of your community. When things go well, give your minister genuine and specific affirmation. That feedback provides replenishment, motivation, and focus.

7. Thou shalt address concerns directly and promptly. Don’t allow problems to fester, and don’t relay your beefs through a third party. Instead, give constructive and timely comments so that the issue can be nipped in the bud. Though it is hard to tell people things it might hurt them to hear, your minister will appreciate your courage, forthrightness, and investment in the relationship and in the church and will know that you can be counted on to give honest feedback.

8. Thou shalt pay your minister fairly. Appropriate cash salary and benefits and annual cost of living pay increases will allow your minister to focus on ministry alongside you instead of on scraping together enough money for groceries.

9. Thou shalt refrain from making assumptions, and thou shalt stop rumors in their tracks. It’s easy to make mental leaps about someone you’re just getting to know, then spread them around as facts. Instead, be curious. Ask. Use your wondering to build the relationship.

10. Thou shalt manage your expectations. Remember that this is a new city, faith community, and role for your minister, and there will be a period of adjustment. Be helpful and welcoming without monopolizing the minister’s time and attention.

Chisel these guidelines into a couple of stone slabs and keep them constantly before you, and you will have laid the groundwork for years of growing in God and serving your neighbors together.

Creative Commons image "Ten Commandments Tablets" by George Bannister are licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Ten commandments for welcoming your new pastor, part 1

Moses’ trek to the top of Mount Sinai and his receipt of the ten commandments came up in the lectionary lately. Call it coincidence or divine timing, but I happened to be preaching that Sunday at a congregation that was two weeks away from calling a new senior pastor … and I had been invited to speak directly to ways the church could welcome her new leader. I took the Sinai commandments and translated them into practices to covenant around as this minister and this congregation began their journey together. Here are the first five:

  1. Thou shalt keep God first. Relationships built on shared faith lead to fruitful mutual ministry, and that is the goal of the clergy-congregation bond. Invite God into all your plans for welcoming and interacting with your new minister, and your belonging to one another will get off to a fast start.
  2. Thou shalt open yourselves to your new minister’s ideas and gifts. Your congregation no doubt has tried and true ways of being church together. You likely also have some traditions and practices that need either to be memorialized or revitalized. Your new minister will bring experiences, gifts, and fresh eyes to your church. Allow your minister to exercise them in ways that strengthen your witness, even if that means smashing a few idols in the process.
  3. Thou shalt be mindful of how you use God’s name. Names – and the ways we use them – have power. Use God’s in heartfelt prayers for your new minister and your journey together. Try out using relevant adjectives for God in your devotional time: welcoming God, life-giving God, loving God, surprising God.
  4. Thou shalt rest and urge your pastor to do the same. You are near the end of a long interim period, which tends to deplete a congregation’s energy. Take your hard-earned sabbath so that you will be rejuvenated for the mission God has for this church. And remember that your new minister, though no doubt excited to be with you, will likely be tired from all the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual efforts that moving requires.
  5. Thou shalt tend to your relationships with your new minister, minister’s family (if applicable), your current staff, and one another. Pay attention to people who are struggling with the transition. Be vulnerable with each other – this will build deep trust that you will rely on in the years to come.

Stay tuned for the other five commandments, coming next week.

Creative Commons image "10 Commandments" by John Taylor is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


The in-between time as Lenten journey

In churches that follow the liturgical calendar, this is the season of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter (not counting Sundays). Lent is a period of reflection with the aim of clearing away the barriers to our relationship with God. We are better able to celebrate – and then to share the good news of – Christ’s resurrection if these spiritual obstacles have been dismantled.

In a sense the time between settled ministers is in itself a Lenten observance.

Both are times of preparation. There is something that is “not yet.” We wait for what is to come, but our waiting is active, engaged, purposeful. Our hearts need this time during which God makes us ready.

Both are times of wonder. “What is God up to?” is a primary question of this season, as is “Where can we join God in this work?” 

Both call for self-study. We look back at where we have been and what brought us to where we are now. We consider what forms us spiritually – what we want to hold fast to – and what distracts us from our relationship with God and thus needs to be culled.

Both are fraught with potential challenges. Lent and interim seasons are wilderness journeys. There’s real danger that we might double-down on the things that keep us from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.

Both inspire humility – and awe. We realize that we cannot move faithfully into the future under our own power. That God is present even when we don't immediately recognize it. And that God’s love is pulling us forward toward a purpose that takes our breath away.

What would it take for your congregation to embrace the transition time as spiritual journey?

Photo by Trần Anh Tuấn on Unsplash.