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Everything must be done for ‘those not yet here’

Everything must be done for ‘those not yet here’

Here is the problem as Lutheran bishop Mike Rinehart sees it:

Decisions are made for the benefit of those inside rather than those outside the church. In every single decision, even the little ones, insiders trump outsiders. Take hymns, for example. Musical decisions are not made considering what will attract spiritually hungry outsiders, but what will please the card-carrying, bill-paying membership. Most church outsiders don’t care if you ever sing “How Great Thou Art.” They won’t be slightly offended by a guitar in church. Time and time again church leaders receive heat from church insiders upset about this or that, because the insiders are trying to recreate their childhood church experience or simply have a rigid idea of what church is supposed to be. Church leaders cave in to these insiders because try control the purse strings.

… and here is why the problem is happening:

Church structures were set up to preserve what exists, not change it. These stable structures work well when society is changing slowly, imperceptibly. If something is working, protect it at all costs. But what if it is not working? What if the rate of societal change skyrockets, and old patterns and structures no longer work? Peter Drucker once said, “When the rate of change outside the organization exceeds the rate of change inside the organization, the organization is doomed.”

… and here is the solution:

So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn, song and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind.

Your thoughts?


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Kathryn Jensen

Please forgive my lack of clarity, for all my wordiness. I am NOT talking about loyal members being put out by talk of change. On the contrary, I am talking about loyal members who generally go along with the change because it is sold to them as the ONLY right thing to do, in just about all circumstances. I am talking about a professional elite of church growth consultants and marketers who do not know about local conditions or the kinds of people who are either “inside” or “outside” existing churches, who apply the same approach nationally, across denominations and state lines. I, not the “loyal members,” am offended by seeing decades of this kind of conduct, based on little or no scientific or sociological evidence that these strategies work to grow congregations, and by the broad assumptions that anyone who might dare to ask (though no one does) what specific purpose will be served by changing A or B, is shunned as not “caring” about “outsiders.” The issue is not to change or not to change but rather whether church leaders and their “experts” are the least bit knowledgeable, let alone sensitive or compassionate, as to what it is they are doing.

Sensitivity needs to go both ways, and understanding of how humans relate differently to God and each other requires knowledge and experience. Churches need to simply understand that people ARE different, and that your needs and my needs are not always going to coincide, and none of us our privileged to get “our way” one way or another simply because one is in or out at the moment. It should not be a zero sum game — one side wins, the other loses. Indeed, it would be hard to identify two “sides.” Instead compassion and tolerance is called for from everyone, and what should count the most is gathering people together to worship and take care of one another and others despite their differences. That doesn’t take one kind of building or setting or music over another. And yet that is what people want to fight about, dividing the people inside so that regardless of who “wins,” no one from the “outside” is going to want to come “in” at all.

I leave (and yes I will, at last), with these prescient words from Henri J.M. Nouwen:

But here we must be aware of the great temptation that faces Christian ministers. Everywhere Christian leaders, men and women alike, have become increasingly aware of the need for more specific training and formation. This need is realistic, and the desire for more professionalism in the ministry is understandable. But the danger is that instead of becoming free to let the spirit grow, ministers may entangle themselves in the complications of their own assumed competence and use their specialism as an excuse to avoid the much more difficult task of being compassionate.

The task of Christian leaders is to bring out the best in people and to lead them forward to a more human community; the danger is that their skillful diagnostic eye will become more than an eye for distant and detailed analysis than the eye of a compassionate partner. And if priests and ministers think that more skill training is the solution for the problem of Christian leadership, they may end up being more frustrated and disappointed than the leaders of the past. More training and structure are just as necessary as more bread for the hungry. But just as bread given without love can bring war instead of peace, professionalism without compassion will turn forgiveness into a gimmick, and the kingdom to come, into a blindfold.

Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, Chapter II “Ministry for the Rootless Generations” (Doubleday 1972).

Priscilla Cardinale

Kathryn, thanks for your reply. I’m sure you care very deeply about your churches and your husband’s ministry. Good for you!

Sorry about all the typos in my previous posting — I was typing in the dark because my light burned out. Ugh!

What I hear you saying is assimilate or go away. Fine. That’s the message i’ve gotten from every church within a few dozen miles. Clearly I should’ve stayed in one of the other 4 states (3 northern, 1 midwest) that welcomed me and my viewpoint and my talents. I spent a good 35+ years serving in them.

But for good or ill I’m now in the south and there is nothing like what you talk about in your church here. I do random hits on Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches when the need for fellowship becomes a deep pain for me but none have made me feel welcomed enough to stay or come a second time. That’s my bad luck I guess.

People like me and Weiwin Ng are part of the growing majority of non-church attending Americans and I guess your message is that this is fine with you because the loyal members are being put out by talk of getting new people in the pews and are offended by ideas that smack of change for the sake of change to them. That’s OK. I wish you and your church well. Someday I will find another welcoming church again and I won’t feel that I have to become someone and something I’m not to be welcomed there.

Kathryn Jensen

Priscilla, I understand ancedotally, at least, that there are still Episcopal parishes like you describe. Ours happens to have long had quite a bit of diversity, including whites of many different ethnic groups and religious backgrounds (including Armenian and Roman Catholic, Italian, Lebanese, Polish, etc.), African-Americans, Hispanics, and most recently Karen refugees from Thailand, who now number something like half of our young choristers and teens in the choir. We are in an area that has suffered economic depression for many years, and whatever monied interests who might have once been “insiders” have all since left, either to retire or relocate their businesses elsewhere. Choir members include men in their 50’s and 60’s and beyond who were in the Men and Boy’s Choir when they were children. Some of our past choirmasters have gone on to renowned church musicians and composers in large cities. Our new “insiders” from Thailand are used to services similar to Rite II and have started coming to Rite II so their children can sing in the choir. I’d like to know why this parish of mostly people of modest means and diverse backgrounds who share the Book of Common Prayer and a certain musical tradition should change dramatically for the sake of people who are not fond of it. There are other Episcopal parishes, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and many other churches where one can get other kinds of music and liturgies. Nevertheless, we are looked down upon in the diocese, and probably the church at large, as doing something terrible and old-fashioned, and anyone else who tries to continue to bring in new members based on the unique traditions we have are considered crazy. No, one cannot build a mega-church with former Roman Catholics, Armenians, refugees, and middle to lower-middle class people, but one can have a vibrant and warm faith community.

Believe it or not there is are vast areas of the Midwest and Northeast that are not urban, suburban, or full of Bush Republicans, which still have Episcopal parishes. They are closing their doors, when they do, primarily because there is not enough money to keep them open, not because of tiffs between insiders and outsiders. My husband used to visit small parishes up near the Adirondacks bravely trying to stay open with 10-20 communicants. He reported that they were doing more mission work than some parishes many times their size. How can it possibly matter what kind of liturgy or music they or us or anyone uses? Why cannot or should not some people “do” church in terms of worship, the same as they always have? Does God place any less value on their prayers? Yet there are people, lay and clergy, in the larger church who truly and earnestly speak and act as if they believed that.

Priscilla Cardinale

Katrhyn, I have to side with Weiwen Ng on this one. I have been a faithful churchgoer my entire life, serving at the altar, as a lector, as a cantor, as a chorister, doing prison mission, homeless outreach, and a education. I no longer attend a church regularly because I had the misfortune of moving to an area where the “insiders” brook no mention of any kind of change and frankly don’t seem to pleased to see any “outsider” walk through the doors.

It’s the “That’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it” shriek that greets even a mention of maybe trying something different for any minor occasion the finally led me to give up. Funny but I actually have always preferred the Rite 1 services, which are always very early and have no music even though I am so far away politically and socially form those whom I attend with. My musical preferences are much more traditional than my political views — I don’t care at all for modern praise music.

But I also noticed in every single church I tried to join in this area that the congregation was all of one race, largely all of one age, and clearly all of one socio-economic status. I didn’t fit because I wasn’t a member of these groups. I felt like an awkward guest at a country club every time I went. So I quit going.

It’s very troubling when you talk about the insiders because one could gauge from your lengthy examples that the only thing they are loyal too is having things the way they want them at all times or else they take their tithes and go elsewhere. I doubt that’s your meaning but that’s what I’m hearing. Your dismissive and almost negative take on outsiders who are “unkown” and whom “may or may not” do the things that the insiders do means very little other than that you seem to fear outsiders and want they to stay outside.

Pretty much confirms my belief that in many places the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are little more than Republican (Country Clubs) at Worship. I pray that we may come to some kind of truce where we can some day see the possibilities of changing that to “All God’s Children at worship” but we’re not their now and if congregations continue to follow an outdated and inoperable social hierarchy model of doing church we will never reach that goal and much that is beautiful and Christ-like will be lost as the last insider is buried.

Kathryn Jensen

Congregations are all plagued by the vagaries of personal and social dynamics, which come into play no matter what the issue — changes in music and liturgy, building new parking lots, trying a different kind of Christmas or Epiphany pageant, or even a different format for a service bulletin or newsletter. It’s enough to make any sane person want to stay home in bed with the newspaper, a cup of coffee, take a walk in the park, and or simply spend time with family or friends.

The difficulties with living in a human community of any kind have lately been exacerbated by the polarization and divisions in society as a whole, together with the vast changes in the roles that churches and other religious organizations play in their surrounding communities. Church membership and attendance are optional in the U.S. and other Western societies in ways it hasn’t been for a long time. That means that anyone, lay or clergy, who seek to lead or even, as you have done, make positive suggestions for change or improvement, face enormous obstacles. Many of the individuals “inside” are broken and troubled in proportions that may be quite different from what religious communities previously have experienced. And churches attract both clergy and laypersons who are all the more zealous in advancing their views and desires because they feel and see themselves as impotent in making changes elsewhere, whether it be at work, in their families, or the government or society at large. In addition, social ties and networks are much looser or fluid than ever before. We are all much more accustomed to seeking and finding likeminded people and, if need be, casting off groups or affiliations as our interests and needs change, or simply as we become dissatisfied with the groups and organizations we have previously spent time with or even exerted great efforts for.

I don’t know where this will all lead, whether churches as we have known them have any chance of surviving at all. All I know is that the people currently “inside” are the ones who, for whatever reason, see some value in being part of a faith community, with putting up with all the nonsense, and sometimes emotional bruising and scuffling. I believe that community, of some sort or another, is at the heart of Christianity, that without communal life of some sort, we can do nothing more than bat around thoughts, ideas, and prayers in our heads and think about doing “better” from to time — not entirely a bad approach, but not fully Christian in its broadest and deepest meaning. And yet what I see and hear from many in the church growth movement (sometimes know more realistically dubbed “church revitalization”), is bizarrely anti-communal in the essence of its vocabulary and thinking. Communal ties and traditions are conflated with obstacles to growth and evangelism. There is little evidence of nuanced understanding in between and little or no desire to spend time listening and learning from, say, the women with the worn Bibles that Kathleen Norris wrote about in Dakota. The urgency, anxiety, and panic about the condition of our finances, buildings, and, in that very real and practical sense, our futures, are overtaking our commonsense and our awareness of what is going on in the lives of the people “inside”, whose needs may be, if not more pressing, ones we can better minister to than those who are not inclined to visit our churches, let alone join them. If the lights go out and the doors close, so be it. I would just rather they do so with having loved and respected those who hung on until the very end. I fear too many of our bishops and clergy would rather just move on, build new churches, where they can, and leave the “old” sheep alone in the cold, branded as ones who do not care about anyone but themselves. That, to me, is as deeply wrong as the hostility that can and does meet honest efforts for change and good ideas for improvement.

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