Thinking Out Loud

February 17, 2020

Lost Voice 2: Lynn

Yes, I know, I’m re-publishing them out of numerical sequence…

When this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Here is another sample chapter. As I said the first time, why have one unpublished book when you can have two?

Philip arrived at his new church after nearly a decade of serving as music director in another state. He and his wife weren’t sure if this was the right move since he would have to supplement it with a few hours of part-time work, but after ten years, they felt it was time for a change.

Most days consisted of scheduling rehearsals, working with soloists, fixing the sound system, choosing hymns for the traditional service and choruses for the modern service, and, at the very bottom of Philip’s list, ninety minutes weekly with the church’s Junior Band, a group of children who gave new meaning to the word cacophony.

And then Lynn called.

She was the parent of one of the kids in the aforementioned brass group, and had a question about a particular verse in the New Testament, and Philip was, after all, part of the pastoral staff, and the pastor was on vacation.

It turned out to be one of those verses. One of the challenging, difficult and perplexing verses in the NT which can be interpreted a few different ways. So Philip hauled out all his commentaries from Bible College, and proceeded to offer Lynn some classical insights into both the verse and its context.

“How did you do that?” Lynn asked. She had no history with Bible reference books and was immediately hooked. She bought some commentaries of her own, and suddenly was enrolled in a seminary-level course offered to mature students by another denomination.

One course led to another and soon she was on an eight-year track of part-time studies leading toward a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. In fact, Philip, who continued serving the same church for the entire duration of Lynn’s foray into doctrinal studies and church history once remarked to his wife, “She’s gone completely beyond anything I ever studied; she can talk circles around me when it comes to a variety of subjects.”

But ultimately, Lynn also, figuratively speaking, ‘priced herself out of the market’ when it came to serving in that church. Whereas before she might be asked to read a scripture or lead a prayer-time, she became a slight problem because,

  • first of all she was a woman who aspired to fulfill a pastoral role in a denomination that hasn’t, to this point, allowed such to take place; and
  • her credentials come from a particular school that is outside her home church’s comfort zone, even though nobody had ever challenged any of her beliefs, her textbooks, or her professors; and
  • her entire journey on this quest for theological understanding made her a bit of a mystic in the eyes of her home church; she was present every Sunday but to them increasingly theologically and spiritually distant, even if nobody could explain why.

So Lynn kept showing up for church, but eventually realized she no longer belonged and gave up any hope of using her new-found gifts there.

The denomination that trained her found her the occasional pulpit supply role and she was paid as a teaching assistant for a few of their undergrad courses, but serving that particular denomination had not been her particular goal.

Eventually, leadership batons were passed to people who never knew the earlier role Lynn had played in the formation of the church. She was regarded as a total outsider, not because of spiritual decay, or sin, or apathy, but because of her desire to grow deep in the knowledge of God, and her desire to use that knowledge to serve others.

Lynn is one of the lost voices in the modern church, and it’s a shame, because she has so much to contribute.

September 10, 2015

Am I Ever, Inadvertently, Part of My Pastor’s Problem?

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

I discovered a link leftover from yesterday’s news roundup that I decided was worthy of greater attention. It was a piece at the website Foundations – Life Coaching which in turn linked to a piece by Thom Rainer, The Twelve Biggest Challenges Pastors and Church Staff Face:

In my latest non-scientific Twitter survey, I asked the following question of pastors and church staff: What is your biggest challenge in ministry? Here are the top twelve responses with representative quotes. I’ve taken the liberty to expand most of the quotes from their abbreviated form in Twitter.

  1. Apathy and internal focus.  “I have been in ministry for over twenty years, and I’ve never seen church members more apathetic and internally focused.”
  2. Staff issues. “I inherited staff from the previous pastor. It’s not a good match, but I don’t have the credibility to do anything about it.”
  3. Leading and keeping volunteers. “It’s a full-time job itself.”
  4. General time constraints. “I end every week wondering why I got so little done.”
  5. Getting buy-in from members. “I spend half my time developing a consensus from members about decisions from the mundane to the critical.”
  6. Generational challenges. “It seems like the older generation is determined to nix any new ideas or excitement from the younger generation.”
  7. Finances. “You can sum up our challenge in four simple words: We need more money.”
  8. Holding on to traditions. “I wish our members would put as much effort into reaching people for Christ as they do holding on to their traditions.”
  9. Criticism. “Some leaders in the church have appointed themselves to be my weekly critics.”
  10. Leadership development. “We miss too many opportunities in ministry because we don’t have enough leaders ready.”
  11. Majoring on minors. “We spent an hour in our last business conference discussing the fonts in our bulletins.”
  12. Lack of true friends. “One of the toughest realities for me as pastor was the awareness that I have no true friends in the church.”

What is fascinating, if not discouraging, about this survey is that virtually all of the challenges noted by these pastors and staff were internal challenges. It appears that many of our churches in America are not effective conduits of the gospel because the members spend so much energy concerned about their own needs and preferences.

So let’s look at Rainer’s list and look at our role in the life of the pastor and church staff at our local church:

  1. Am I as passionate about my church as I once was? As passionate as I could be?
  2. In striving for continuity, was our church too insistent on locking-in the existing staff positions?
  3. Am I doing as much volunteer work as I could? Have I quit doing something in our church’s ministry that I should have stuck with?
  4. Have I ever created situations or projects which are a distraction to the church staff? Or even stayed too long at a mid-week drop-by and prevented some work from getting done?
  5. Am I ever skeptical about new church initiatives or slow to get on board?
  6. Do I truly recognize the multi-generational character of the Body of Christ? Or do I tend to focus on people in my own age bracket or socioeconomic situation?
  7. Am I practicing systematic, intentional, regular percentage giving?
  8. Do I let my love of the familiar in the life of our church prevent us from trying some fresh approaches and new initiatives.
  9. Have I ever vocally criticized the pastor or church staff? Have I ever by my silence seemed unsupportive, even something so slight as a rolling of the eyes in a conversation?
  10. Is our church mentoring the next tier of lay leadership? Are we creating situations where people can step up and have more ministry responsibility?
  11. Do I allow myself to get mired in minutiae; caught up in non-issues?
  12. Have I put myself in a position where I’m willing to just be a friend to people our pastoral staff and not just have a connection that is task-related only?

It may be that these questions just scratch the surface, or perhaps don’t do the original article justice. (#2 Was a tough one to individualize because it’s beyond the scope of most parishioners, and sometimes a complete change of staff can be deadly.)

But I hope these give you something to think about as you engage in conversations at your church. I hope it serves as a type of ‘checks-and-balances’ set of questions.

 

January 10, 2012

Lost Voice 2 – Lynn

Filed under: Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:15 am

More than four years ago when this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Today, I thought I’d give you another sample chapter. As I said the first time, why have one unpublished book when you can have two?

Philip arrived at his new church after nearly a decade of serving as music director in another state.  He and his wife weren’t sure if this was the right move since he would have to supplement it with a few hours of part-time work, but after ten years, they felt it was time for a change.

Most days consisted of scheduling rehearsals, working with soloists, fixing the sound system, choosing hymns for the traditional service and choruses for the modern service, and, at the very bottom of Philip’s list, ninety minutes weekly with the church’s Junior Band, a group of children who gave new meaning to the word cacophony.

And then Lynn called.

She was the parent of one of the kids in the aforementioned brass group, and had a question about a particular verse in the New Testament, and Philip was, after all, part of the pastoral staff, and the pastor was on vacation.

It turned out to be one of those verses. One of the challenging, difficult and perplexing verses in the NT which can be interpreted a few different ways.  So Philip hauled out all his commentaries from Bible College, and proceeded to offer Lynn some classical insights into both the verse and its context.

“How did you do that?” Lynn asked.  She had no history with Bible reference books and was immediately hooked.  She bought some commentaries of her own, and suddenly was enrolled in a seminary-level course offered to mature students by another denomination.

One course led to another and soon she was on an eight-year track of part-time studies leading toward a Master’s degree in Theological Studies.  In fact, Philip, who continued serving the same church for the entire duration of Lynn’s foray into doctrinal studies and church history once remarked to his wife, “She’s gone completely beyond anything I ever studied; she can talk circles around me when it comes to a variety of subjects.”

But ultimately, Lynn also, figuratively speaking, ‘priced herself out of the market’ when it came to serving in that church.  Whereas before she might be asked to read a scripture or lead a prayer-time, she  became a slight problem because,

  • first of all she was a woman who aspired to fulfill a pastoral role in a denomination that hasn’t, to this point, allowed such to take place; and
  • her credentials come from a particular school that is outside her home church’s comfort zone, even though nobody had ever challenged any of her beliefs, her textbooks, or her professors; and
  • her entire journey on this quest for theological understanding made her a bit of a mystic in the eyes of her home church; she was present every Sunday but to them increasingly theologically and spiritually distant, even if nobody could explain why.

So Lynn kept showing up for church, but eventually realized she no longer belonged and gave up any hope of using her new-found gifts there.

The denomination that trained her found her the occasional pulpit supply role and she was paid as a teaching assistant for a few of their undergrad courses, but serving that particular denomination had not been her particular goal.

Eventually, leadership batons were passed to people who never knew the earlier role Lynn had played in the formation of the church.    She was regarded as a total outsider, not because of spiritual decay, or sin, or apathy, but because of her desire to grow deep in the knowledge of God, and her desire to use that knowledge to serve others.

Lynn is one of the lost voices in the modern church, and it’s a shame, because she has so much to contribute.

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