Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part Three

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:36 am

Well, I thought it was good idea. Two ideas really.

The first was something that’s commonplace in Mainline Protestant churches in the summer but not so big among Evangelicals. I thought it would be a good fit.

The second was something that actually happened in the church parking lot rather serendipitously which I thought should be a permanent feature.

I sent it to two people on church staff. There’s a problem right there. Each probably assumed the other would reply to it. (Okay, I’m being charitable with that.)

Just suggestions. No personal agenda. No history of making this type of suggestion in any recent memory.

No reply.

We’ve written about this before here, so I don’t want to belabor the point, but shouldn’t churches be pleased when someone cares enough about the church’s programming, image, environment, etc. to write a short note? They could even send me a form letter for the wrong response as in, “Thank you for your suggestion, we’ll consider adding both books to the church library;” or “We apologize for the shortage of diapers in the nursery you experienced.”

Rather, I got silence.

Working in Christian camping, I learned that first impressions count and the camps have increased their attention to making each week’s Opening Day a big welcome both for the kids who are staying and the parents and guardians who are dropping them off. It’s not just a matter of saying ‘We’re glad you’re here;’ but actually putting some energy into it.

I thought I was on to something. I’ll share the details with you in the Spring so churches that want to have time to ramp up, though I suspect many are doing similar things already.

When a parishioner cares enough to make a suggestion, even if the idea has flaws, they should at least get an acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

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August 11, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

On Tuesday, in Part One, we talked about the potential for misunderstanding in business communications when the writer uses emojis along with text, along with the risk of simply being too informal.

Today I want to look at the opposite situation, the pastor who doesn’t write at all. In the time it takes me to complete this article, I could probably send between 15 and 20 emails. They’re an easy way of keeping in contact with people, especially if the content is only one or two short sentences. What’s more, they’re free. That is something younger readers cannot possibly grasp; the idea every written communication involved addressing an envelope and placing a stamp on it, and if it was of any importance making a photocopy for the files. The third advantage is that they are immediate. Decide it’s what you want to say and hit send, and it’s on the recipients email server in seconds.

So where is the downside?

The Pastor Who Never Writes

The problem is it’s so easy that some people, if they are a part of email culture at all, can’t understand why the pastor doesn’t do it.

A couple of things here. First, some people don’t have email, don’t have a smart phone and are not part of the aforementioned culture of email or texting. Those people need to be connected through different means.

Second, some of you attend a megachurch where you’ve never even met your pastor face to face. He either isn’t at the door (or atrium, or patio, or what one pastor calls the crush) or you just haven’t felt the need to walk up to him and introduce yourself. You either maintain more personal connection to the church through your small group leader, or simply don’t have that type of contact.

Keep those things in mind as we continue.

The Personal Email

This would be an email sent to one recipient only. It’s less likely to happen in a megachurch environment, which begs many other questions we won’t get into here.

This is the letter that says,

  • Hey, Jennifer; it was good to see you and the kids on Sunday; hope Mark is feeling better.
  • Hey, Jason; thanks for stepping up at last minute when we needed help this week.
  • Hey, Joanne; I checked out that book you mentioned and ordered a copy.
  • Hey, James; I sent your contact info to a guy at another church who is hiring in your field right now.

It’s personal. Plus, you can even write to people whose name doesn’t start with the letter J.

The Form Letter Email

This is something any pastor (or associate pastor, or student pastor, etc.) can do, small church or megachurch. But it can still be written with a personal touch. Rough outlines might look like:

  • Dear Church Family; Wanda and I are back from our yearly vacation at the lake; we had a great time of rest with friends and family; we’re looking forward to getting into the fall schedule.
  • Dear First Assembly Family; Over the summer I’ve been reading some great books and wanted to share what I’ve learned in three of them.
  • Dear Westside Friends; We had a great mission trip this past two weeks in Peru; we’ve posted some pictures to share with you at this link; thanks for your prayers.

Not rocket science. Easy to do. Not as personal as a personal letter, but still a great way to keep in contact. (I would suggest the pastor have a distinct address for this, and budget some time for reading responses in the 2-3 days that follow the email distribution.)

So how’s it done where you worship? Do you get communications from your minister or do church emails tend to be a reminder of upcoming services, programs, seminars, or events?

August 8, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part One

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:56 am

An article in my weekend newspaper warned business people about the casual tone to today’s communications and in particular the use of emojis.

More than ever, businesses are turning to instant messaging apps such as Slack, Hipchat and Skype to facilitate communication and collaboration. As this informal communication becomes the norm, so too do the tiny pictographic characters known as emoji.

Emoji have become so ubiquitous they have even been turned into a movie. But lawyers are increasingly encouraging companies to keep them out of their workplaces, cautioning that what a given emoji means can change depending on the context and culture in which they’re used.

Marissa Lang wrote the article for The San Francisco Chronicle adding,

Devised as a way to clarify the tone or emotion of a message, emoji can also muddle meaning and lead to workplace misunderstandings that legal experts worry could soon get someone sued.

The potential for hurt and misunderstanding in church and ministry life is the same if not greater. Some pastors eschew email, texting and Facebook altogether, while others are extremely cautious as to what they put in print. Even so, I’ve been the receiving end of pastoral communications that I am sure would have, with an extra five minutes of thought, not been sent.

Most of the church leaders I know got to be where they are because of wisdom and discretion. But it’s so easy to type a reply very quickly and hit the send button.

Before all of this, there were formal processes to correspondence. Most people in leadership had a secretary who would either take dictation — anyone remember Pittman shorthand? — or would type a handwritten script. One very successful businessman I knew well would hand-write all his communications on lined paper, and then, using the same pen, would go over each letter of each word. Every single item to be typed by his receptionist would consist of cursive writing which had been traced over a second time.

Today, many executives handle their own memos, proposals and responses. It’s easy to be too fast.

Ministers and church staff often find themselves writing first and thinking later. One particular email, noted above, left me devastated for several days. Were I to quote it, I know you would agree. Fortunately, my relationship with this pastor survived the hurt. 

The article’s primary takeaway is that emojis should not be used at work at all. They’re just too informal.

If your boss is God, you have to be held to highest standard. 


Some church emojis:

 

November 4, 2010

So Why Exactly Does Scandal Hit Pastors and Religious Leaders?

Mark Barger Elliott tries to deal with this question — “How can we clergy explain such egregious transgressions?”  this week on the CNN Belief Blog.   He feels there are two culprits, “the work and the person.”

Take the first one:

As a pastor I identify with the pitfalls of “the work.” Fifteen years ago I took vows “to love God, my neighbor, and to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence and imagination.”

Today, however, my job description reads like the director of a mid-size non-profit. A million dollar budget needs to be raised and a monthly payroll of 12 employees met. To tread the churning waters of shrinking resources and demands for excellent programs, I take classes on strategic planning as often as classes on the Bible.

As to the second issue:

How do we explain the moral transgressions of a profession charged to teach morality?

In my years as a pastor I have witnessed marriage vows made and betrayed. I have visited those in prison and those trapped in a prison they have made for themselves. I’ve prayed with the lost and the found, watched fortunes flow and ebb.

“Broken” is a word that describes many of the people I have been privileged to walk alongside as a pastor.

I have also spent a great deal of time with other clergy; from preaching stars who soak up acclaim for their oratory gifts to pastors in inner-city churches barely making ends meet.

The solution to the first problem seems more simple:

One option is to intentionally separate the clergy from the church’s financial matters. Teaching people about God’s love while shaking a fundraiser’s tin cup seems to ultimately undermine one’s credibility. People suspect a bait and switch.

I wish he had been given more space to flesh this out.    He identifies a tension here, but it’s just one, and pastors are stretched physically and emotionally in so many different directions.  Is the point financial responsibility specifically, or the inconsistencies of the job?

The second solution is not so easily dealt with:

Clergy typically fall into one of two camps.

Those who, in the face of the brokenness that surrounds them, come to identify their own brokenness and in humility choose to “live with the questions,” to borrow the poet Rilke’s phrase. This person is reluctant to offer quick answers to the hard questions of life.

The other camp is clergy who choose instead to offer confident solutions to life’s struggles. The clergy I have watched transgress their ordination vows typically fall into the second camp. The temptation is to shift from speaking about God to speaking for God. When that line blurs in a pastor’s mind, all bets are off.

On this point, I wish he’d had space to discuss the “personality” as well as the “person.”   I’ve heard it said that the very personality traits which cause someone to want to be in the pulpit are the very personality traits that leave them vulnerable to temptation.   (My personal belief is that anyone in business leadership, or in a position where they are “upfront” before a crowd of people is equally prone to the same conditions.)   The second paragraph above is certainly an interesting insight into how that might play out.

To me, this is the question all of us — laity and church staff — need to be asking each time we hear a story about another fallen leader.   And “hearing” is key, because we tend to focus here in North American on Canadian and American stories, but Elliott points out there are similar stories in Europe that we’re not always being told.

I also wish he’d had time to broaden out the ending.  While pastors have made vows to serve God vocationally, each one of us has promised to honor God’s name and serve Him with devotion.   The moral collapse of a Christian leader may make headlines, but when it happens to any one of us, it is not any less significant to God.

To read the full piece, in context, which I encourage you to do, click here.

Mark Barger Elliott is Senior Pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and author of Creative Styles of Preaching.

Comments left at the original article come from the widest possible readership at CNN and should be read with discernment.

“Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout, but is usually the result of a slow leak. ” ~source unknown

May 9, 2010

Pastors Who Are Non-Believers

This item by Erin Roach appeared as part of the “Culture Digest” collection for April 30th at Baptist Press.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A study by Tufts University has called attention to the presence of Protestant pastors who do not believe what they preach, something the authors describe as a nearly “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy.”

Ambiguity regarding who is a believer in Jesus and who is a nonbeliever, the report said, is a result of the pluralism that has been fostered by many religious leaders for at least a century.

“God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all,” the authors wrote in summarizing the pluralistic view.

Rather than relying on statistical evidence to point to a conclusion, the study employs anecdotal stories of five ministers whose identities have been obscured. Even the authors admit they couldn’t draw any reliable generalizations from such a small sample of clergy, but what they found, they said, does deserve a closer look.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don’t even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a virgin.

Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn’t even believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it’s the way of life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite losing all theological confidence.

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing,” the pastor said.

He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone would offer him $200,000, he said, he’d leave the ministry right away.

“‘Preachers Who Are Not Believers’ is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy that staggers the mind,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in March.

“In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, ‘On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.’ In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. ‘These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.’

“If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them,” Mohler wrote at albertmohler.com. “If they will not ‘out’ themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to ‘out’ them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?”



As for the cartoon, I traced a use of it back to an appearance in this blog post about doubt from a Christian perspective, but thought if you’re feeling really brave, you should consider this recent blog post about seminary education from an atheist perspective where you’ll also see the same cartoon.

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