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Monday, April 12, 2010

Wait. Not so fast . . .

Image taken from this site.
Leadership has become the social wastebasket term and whipping post for whatever ails us - locally, nationally or on the world stage.

Leadership conferences abound. It's all the rage. Haven't you heard?

We shouldn't be surprised, then, to hear that what is wrong with the church - what accounts for decline in membership and average Sunday attendance - is 'leadership'.

If we just had better leaders, the argument goes, we'd be a healthier church.

Indeed, some, like Katherine Tyler Scott, say we have a "Leadership Crisis in The Episcopal Church." She asserts:
The mainline churches are finding themselves on the margins, declining in membership and donations. Some are in the grip of unresolved conflicts and divisions; others are locked in scandal. The main mission is hostage to a host of distracting issues. In short, the church is experiencing a crisis of leadership.
Wait. Not so fast.

She also notes this:
The top-down authoritarian model of trachurch is no longer effective in a world of new seekers, whose access to information is on par with the leader and where the experience of community is in cyberspace. What will distinguish effective leadership in the church is not just the dissemination of information; it will be the ability to communicate meaning and to translate that meaning into responsible, ethical actions that serve the greater good. Like other sectors, the church is being challenged to lead in new ways that are inclusive and require meaningful involvement, shared authority, a redistribution of power and new forms of community.
I agree with Scott, but find myself wanting to raise a question about the assumptions and traditional definitions of what it means to be a 'leader'.

See the above "inspirational" poster with the slogan: "The leader always sets the trail for others to follow."

If the leader does this, if the old community organizing slogan - "A leader without a following is just a person out for a walk" - is true, then what are the "new ways that are "inclusive"? How does one "redistribute power" and "share authority" and remain the identified "leader"? What does that "new form of community" look like once power is redistributed and authority shared?

I want to say that the leader in this "new form of community" doesn't fit the traditional definition of leadership. Indeed, I think part of what's wrong with Scott's essay is that she's quick to critique, but the imagination and creativity required to find solutions to the identified problems are painfully absent.

What is lacking in discussions I've heard or read or been part of is the emergence of a new image and definition of leader.

We seem to want to pour new wine into old wine skins.  Alas, it has ever been thus.

I've been allowing my imagination and creativity to play with what that new definition and new image of leader sounds and looks like.

Actually, you know, it looks an awful lot like Jesus.

I know. I know. He said, "Follow me." Sounds like a leader, right?

Wait. Not so fast.

The behaviors He wanted us to follow don't look anything at all like the religious leadership we have today. All of His behaviors were about service - healing, teaching, raising up and empowering people to do the same work.

Far as I can tell, he didn't have his own office or even his own Temple.  He met people where they are. He didn't tell them what they needed to know.  Didn't have a program in a handy-dandy three-ring binder for every problem he encountered.

He let the people come to him and listened to them. He didn't give them what they wanted, necessarily, but instead, gave them what they needed - whether they wanted it or not.

And, where He led was not to a corner office in a high rise complex in a pricey zip code. If you follow Jesus, you're going to go through some pretty rough neighborhoods, then onto Gethsemane and end up at Calvary.

So, I've been wondering about how the church might look- and what leadership might look like - if we followed the teaching of Jesus a little more nearly.

I have two images.

The first is to wonder what might happen if the church looked more like a 12-Step Program. The way I understand that it works is that there is no identified 'leader'. There is a coordinator - someone who makes sure there's a place for the group to meet, that someone makes the coffee and sets up the chairs, and that the literature is out.

The group gathers in a circle. First names only are used. Anonymity, I understand, is an important element in a 12-Step Program.

What would it look like if, at the start of every service, someone stood up and said, "Hi, my name is John, and I'm a Christian"? I don't think I've heard too many people in too many churches identify themselves in that way. Is it any wonder, then, that not too many church people actually behave like Christians?

No advertisement is allowed in the 12-Step Program. There are no marketing strategies, no 'self promotion'. The group relies on word of mouth.  You know.  Just like back in the day in Jerusalem.  And Corinth. And Rome. And Ephesis. And . . . well, you get the idea.

Sometimes, the group session begins with a reading of the 12-Steps of Recovery.

What if a church session began with the reading of the 10 Commandments? Or, the lectionary selections for that day or week?  Or followed a specific gospel or epistle?

Then, people take turns telling their stories, in light of the 12-Steps.

What if people in church did that? The sermon or homily becomes not just the theological musings of someone with a collar around their neck. Rather, it becomes the personal witness of individual people who are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, whom they name as their "higher power".

Everyone in a 12-Step Program has a "sponsor" with whom they meet on a regular basis to go over their progress on the steps.

What if people in church had to meet once a week with their "sponsor" - someone who kept them accountable to the 10 Commandments or the Gospel message for that week.?

People in recovery programs are expected to attend at least one meeting a week. In the early phases of recovery, the rule of thumb is "30 meetings in 30 days". Folks I have been privileged to know in 12-Step Programs often go to an "Open Meeting" followed by a "Step Meeting" - where a smaller group of people gather to work specifically on a particular step.

Can you imagine Christians going to church more than once a week - much less working one additional church session on a particular facet of their spiritual discipline? How would the church change if that were to happen?

Okay, so there is the issue of The Eucharist, but that could happen after the "service of the word" - just as it does now. What if Christians met in small groups all over the church and then gathered together for Eucharist around a common table? What might that look like?

And, what would that do to our present understanding of the role of the ordained leader?

That's just one idea - one wild imagining that has sprung forth from the deep recesses of the creative centers around my brain.

Here's another I learned about just this morning. It's called St. Lydia's Church, on the lower East Side of Manhattan.

Here's what they say about themselves:
St. Lydia’s is a Dinner Church! We gather each week to cook and share a sacred meal, just as the first followers of Jesus did. We sing simple unaccompanied music, explore scripture, offer prayers, and feed one another.

We are located in New York City and meet on the Lower East Side every Sunday evening.

St. Lydia’s is a progressive congregation that grows out of the Lutheran and Episcopal traditions. Everyone is welcome at the Table.

St. Lydia’s is a new experiment in what the Church might be when the meal we share is at the very center of our life together. We’re building this together – come and join us!
Their "leadership" includes a Pastoral Minister and a Community Coordinator. No rector. No wardens. A minister who "wants to create a place where God and God’s people sit down and have dinner," and a coordinator who "is a mover between worlds".

Sounds like servant leadership to me.

I imagine Jesus smiling broadly.

You can take a guided tour of the place here. They say:
St. Lydia’s looks and feels different from most churches. We gather each week to cook a big, delicious meal together. Our worship occurs around that meal -- we eat together, read scripture, pray and sing around the table. We do this because this is what worship looked like in the earliest days of the church. We also do this because we believe that Communion is made as we sit down at a table together to share food and share ourselves. Our meal is a sacred way of tying us together and tying us to God. We consecrate it with a Eucharistic prayer called the Didache drawn from the second century.
But, this is my favorite part:
When you arrive at St. Lydia’s, you’ll see that you’re put straight to work preparing dinner, setting tables, or putting out candles. We’ve noticed that it’s easy to get to know one another when we work together. We’ve also noticed that working together draws us together as a community, and draws us closer to God. St. Lydia’s is a homemade church
Put straight to work, getting to know one another in a  'homemade church' . . .

Wait. Not so fast.

We're awfully quick to play 'shoot the leader' when what we really need to do is 'rethink leadership'.

I think what we really need to do is go back in order to find the future of the church - which, to my mind, is not so much about 'leadership' as it is Servant Leadership.

37 comments:

Bradley said...

I am seeing increasing community in the congregations that have pot-luck dinners after services (notably evensong at Trinity Cleveland), where both a meal and the regularity of the offices are said or sung. The age difference is striking, these have a much younger crowd. I think that the young, intelligent and impressionable are thirsting for beauty and a want to be needed.

Joie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love the idea of St. Lydia's. That is the sort of thing I was thinking about weeks ago. So if those people thought about it and I and a few of my friends have been thinking about it then...?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bradley - I think you are absolutely right, but it's not just young people. Trust me on this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Joie - You are most welcome. I love the idea of St. Lydia's too. I'm going to try to get over there one Sunday night.

Anonymous said...

As a recovering RC, I love your idea.

MackBeemer said...

Elizabeth:

Thanks for putting us on to St. Lydia's. I have only one comment - a question, really. When I was in AA, saying "Hi, my name is Mack and I'm an alcoholic," was hard... because 'alcoholic' (at least initially) is not a term of approbation! True, old-timers around the tables do get to the place where they can say paradoxical things like "becoming an alcoholic was the best thing that ever happened to me!" But initially, confessing that you're an alcoholic is a hard pill to swallow. Negative connotations abound.

Whereas 'Christian' (at least among Jesus followers) has a positive connotation. I've thought of saying "Hi, my name is Mack, and I'm a sinner!" but that doesn't quite get it either.

Any ideas?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It has occurred to me that 'recovering Christians' may need a 12 Step Church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Mark, I understand what you are saying. Really. But I want to focus on the hard part of what it means to be a Christian - the "recovery" part of having been or being a "Hypercritical Critical Christian" that the poet speaks of in my next post. Like it or not, there is also a stigma to being Christian - for me at least and in this country in a particular way. That's what I mean.

MackBeemer said...

By now this is becoming fodder for late night comics!

My name is MaCK, not MaRK!

I just checked. I've got brand new glasses, and I can see that the 'c' might easily be misread as an 'r'.

So I'll not jump to other conclusions which come readily to my addled brain.

MaCK

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My sincere apologizes MACK. I do that to every blessed MACK who writes to me. In my haste or lingering dyslexia, I turn you all into MARK. I should know better. I'm sorry.

MackBeemer said...

Oh no!

You mean there are other Macks in your life!

I shall jump off the nearest cliff and hang myself. Or viceversa.

Whatever!

[;-)]

M

Mary Beth said...

Thanks for this. I linked to it at my place.

HeatherM said...

Elizabeth, I'm one of the lead cooks for St. Lydia's. We do hope you'll come join us some Sunday; I'd love to put you to work in the kitchen! I've been with Lydia's since it began in Advent 2008 and I can honestly say that I'm delighted to see it changing, evolving to suit the needs of its growing community, just as the members themselves are changing due to their involvement in it.

Joseph P. Mathews, OSL said...

On a cold Sunday in Advent I walked into St. Lydia's. The person greeting was helping with set up upstairs (I was very early). I made my way into the kitchen, where I was asked my name and handed a squash to peel. I've been going back almost every week since.

You can now follow St. Lydia's on Twitter at @StLydias or become a Fan on Facebook.

MarilynAnn said...

Fascinating. A friend pointed me here as I had been discussing with her what a church based on the 12 traditions of AA might look like. This is very similar to the way Julian Meetings (www.julianmeetings.org) are organised. I'm going to be blogging about this soon myself. The great thing about this idea is that it dispenses with most of the paraphanalia of church - buildings, committees, fundraising etc that suck up all our time and energy. It also does away with clericalism.

I found another blog on this theme when I googled http://www.beenthinking.org/2008/04/04/why-i-want-to-go-to-church/

Seems to be an idea that is springing up all over the place.

Hiram said...

I have often wondered what it would be like if the members of the Church - or even simply of a given congregation - were to think of themselves as "Sinners Anonymous." Like overcoming alcohol or drugs, being a sinner in recovery is both a decision and an ongoing process - and it depends upon God's grace and God's presence.

My Church History professor at VTS said that no renewal of the Church ever happened without people recognizing that they were sinners (that is, in rebellion against God) and that God's mercy in Christ was both absolutely essential and absolutely sufficient to deal with their guilt and their sin. And renewal also never happened without small groups of people gathering apart from official services to assist one another in growing. The original Wesleyan class meetings came together weekly and asked "How is it with your soul this week?" That was an opportunity to share the struggles and victories as each member sought to know God and follow him more fully.

Of course, it is easy to slip into "autopilot," even in such a serious enterprise - especially by the time a movement reaches into a second generation. Struggling with one's inner rebellion against God is both painful and difficult; it might be easier to simply put a good face on things - which is the beginning of hypocrisy. An alcoholic knows the pain that he or she will face if he or she has "just one beer." Most peoples' acts of rebellion (sins) are not so dramatic in their immediate results, and so it is easier to slide into a false front. And of course, no one can deal with all their sinful actions all at once. All one can do is to plug away, knowing the depth of rebellion, seeking to grow in obedience, and relying upon Christ's mercy and power.

Maybe the term you are looking for is neither "Sinners Anonymous" nor "Christians Anonymous," but "Hypocrites Anonymous."

PS - There have been a lot of conservative Christian groups begun that have used the model St Lydia is using. The Alpha program is certainly similar. And I think that Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan (PCA, the Rev Tim Keller is senior pastor) has begun some congregations that way - they have planted some 100 congregations over the last two decades in the NY Metro area.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hiram - I think what you are pointing out is that we begin from fundamentally different places. You begin with the Fall and I begin with God saying "It is good".

Bottom line: We both end up needing Jesus in the midst of community.

See? It is good.

Hiram said...

Elizabeth, we have had this conversation before. I DO start with God saying, "It is very good" about his creation, including and especially human beings.

But the story of creation does not simply pass on to humanity growing in numbers - there is that matter of "The Fall," in which humanity says, "Yes, it is very good. But God is holding out on me. It would be so much better if I were in charge, and knew good and evil." Rebellion.

Scripture does not teach that humanity is utterly bad and irredeemable. It teaches that every aspect of our hearts, minds, and bodies has been affected negatively by our rebellion. We are spiritually dead, and blind to the things of God. We suppress the truth, apart from God's grace. That grace, however, can and does enable people to know God, their sin, and the grace that leads to forgiveness and transformation.

MackBeemer said...

Elizabeth:

If I may, I'd like to suggest that your responses to Hiram's post misses the mark in two ways:

(1) You say you and he have different "starting points", that Hiram's is the Fall, and yours (in good Episcopal fashion) is creation and God's pronouncement "it is good." But this is insufficient isn't it? To suggest that Hiram ignores the doctrine of creation is surely to read more into his post than he would likely admit.

(2) And in your own case, one wonders what Jesus is needed for, absent the Fall. As I *know* you are aware, the creation as we now have it is terribly bent and broken, not at all as it came forth from the hand of the Creator. I take it that the gospel - the good news - is that the Creator has not abandoned his good creation, bent and horribly defaced as it now is, but has, in the man Jesus of Nazareth, acted once and for all to commence the reclamation of his good creation.

We said, this morning in this morning's mass, "We remember his death,/We proclaim his resurrection,/We await his coming in glory."

IM(NSH)O, one of the difficult issues for "liberal theology" has been the brokenness of creation. What has Jesus' death and resurrection to do with *our* world and its desperation? A refusal to recognize that our world is really broken, and that beyond any merely human amelioration, means we but speak "nice words" to one another while the beast prowls about seeking whom he may devour.

In Christ, who has risen!
He has risen indeed!
Alleluia!

Mack Harrell
West Orange, NJ

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Hiram, as I have said before, it's perfectly fine to speak for yourself - not for me and all humanity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hello Mack - as an evangelical, you and Hiram agree. You and I disagree. There's no ignoring the brokenness of the world. I just choose not to emphasize it or make it the lens through which I view the enterprise of being human.

We disagree. That doesn't make one right and the other wrong.

It's just that we disagree.

MackBeemer said...

Elizabeth:

I used to accept the moniker 'evangelical' with pride. Not no more!

I am a member in good standing of the nose-bleed section of the Episcopal Church!

Mack Harrell
Anglo-Catholic
Grace EC, Westwood, NJ

MackBeemer said...

If two people disagree and one asserts the logical contradictory of what the other asserts, then they not only disagree, but one of them must be right and the other not ... on pain of contradiction.

If I could remember the reference I'd do more than say merely, "Aristotle said so."

Mack Harrell
Ex-analytic philosopher
Anglo-Catholic
Ex-hippie
Ex-Presbyterian (of a Very Reformed Sort)
Ex- no, you really don't want to know!
West Orange, NJ

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mack - have you not heard that there are Evangelical Episcopalians? Lots of them.

You may claim Anglo-Catholicism, but your theology is still heavily influenced by your evangelical past.

Anglicanism would have driven Aristotle crazy. I would have loved to have seen that.

MackBeemer said...

Dear Elizabeth:

What *is* an evangelical? I mean in today's parlance. You say "your theology is still heavily influenced by your evangelical past."

I wonder what you know of my evangelical past (or, for that matter, how you came to this "knowledge"). IMO (and this time in spades NSH) you correspond with the merest sliver of who I am, culled from the few exchanges we've had and an even smaller set of e-mails I've sent to Louie's list.

You've felt at liberty to label me, and to dump me and Hiram in the same bin. Yet he and I have never met or exchanged any communications whatsoever. I dare say there are ever so many assertions Hiram and I might well accept, plus at least an equal number we'd reject - and not at all for the same reasons.

Really, I would like to have thought one such as yourself would begin by asking questions instead of lumping folks in a bin labeled 'evangelical', a label which I, at least, vehemently reject.

As to Aristotle and the Anglicans, I don't know. But some at least follow St. Thomas Aquinas quite closely, who was nothing if not an Aristotelian.

Of course I am aware of the extreme latitudinarianism of the EC. But the EC isn't asserting contradictions. Members of the EC doubtless contradict one another on various theological issues. When they do, Aristotle's dictum stands - one of the two must be correct and the other not, on pain of contradiction.

For the record - you and I may disagree, but that disagreement (whatever it is) has yet to rise to the level of my contradicting what you say (or vice versa). If it ever does, then one or the other of us will be right, and the other wrong, etc.

It now strikes me that this conversation might well be carried on off this list since we have traveled far beyond your original post.

Mack Harrell
Anglo-catholic
West Orange, NJ

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mack - You yourself wrote: "I used to accept the moniker 'evangelical' with pride. Not no more!"

That's where I got it.

Here's the thing: I really try to avoid getting into discussions with evangelicals - present or former - because it always comes down to the bottom line: someone is right and someone else is wrong.

I'm usually the someone else.

That's not a discussion or a conversation. That's a boxing match.

Want to exchange ideas? Want to consider another perspective? Don't want to convert anyone or expect to be converted?

I'm in.

Otherwise, count me out.

MackBeemer said...

A boxing match?!

Count me out (bad choice of words, that) on that one too. For sure I'm interested in conversation, discovering new stuff, or new stuff about old stuff. I am way to old and gnarly to imagine I am going to convert anyone to anything. Been there, done that, etc., etc. and have many, many t-shirts.

I think, when I said, "I used to accept the moniker 'evangelical'..." I was in mid-sentence the main thrust of which was to eschew the term.

But you, Elizabeth, were the first to use the term in this conversation. What's your sense of the term? What marks one as an evangelical from your PoV? And, to narrow the search a bit, what in an individual's daily practices of his/her faith marks one as an evangelical in your understanding?

Mack Harrell
West Orange, NJ

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's a good question, Mack. A fine question. Just one that is not the topic of this post and one I do not have time to answer fully at this time. I'm just a parish priest with lots of things to do. This blog gives me a place to put down some of my thoughts about a particular subject. This one is is about leadership and the way that is being reshaped. Maybe another day in a post dedicated to the issue of evangelical alone. Indeed, one day soon. I want to reclaim that word from the bad name it's gotten. I consider myself a "lower case Christian": evangelical (small 'e'), catholic (small 'c'), charasmatic(small 'c'), and protestant (. . . .you got it.)

But, another day. Members of the Altar Guild will be here in 20 minutes. I've got a pot of tea to put on ;~)

MarilynAnn said...

I love the idea of a church called 'Sinners Anonymous', the Christian life being a process of recovery through grace.

shannon said...

Another nice thing about St. Lydia's: we're almost always too busy eating, singing, or washing up to have denominational arguments. :)
All are welcome at the table.

Hiram said...

Elizabeth, you said, "Well, Hiram, as I have said before, it's perfectly fine to speak for yourself - not for me and all humanity."

I have to admit that, while on the one hand, I am indeed giving my opinion, it is not an opinion that has come out of the clear blue sky in some way. Rather, it comes out of what I, and many others, see as the core message of Scripture. I, and those others (including Mack, even though I am "snake-belly low" and he is "nose-bleed high), are convinced that Scripture has its source in God and is not simply the reflections of a variety of human beings over the centuries as they encountered the divine and tried to sort out what their experience meant. We believe Scripture to be both authoritative and reliable, because it is God's own Word. It may not tell us everything we want to know, and it may be hard to understand at times, but its core meaning is clear. Scripture interprets Scripture, and as Article XX says, the Church is not at liberty to interpret one part of Scripture so that it contradicts another.

With that said, while I am speaking for myself, I believe that what I believe about the human condition and God's actions to deal with that condition are not simply "true for me" in some fashion, but that the situation applies to all human beings, whether they know it or not and whether they accept it or not. I did not dream it up; it is there in Scripture, showing up times without number.

You may want to say, "You can believe what you want to believe, and I will believe what I want to believe, and we will all be happy as long as we do not try to force our beliefs on each other." I respect everyone's right to believe what they want to believe, and I would never try to force anyone to adopt my convictions - but at the same time, competing truth claims about the human condition cannot be all true if there are elements in each that are directly contradictory to one another. Jesus Christ cannot at the same time be the only way to the Father (as he claimed) and also one of several ways to the Father.

You must believe that some things are true and others are not true. If there is not such thing as truth, there can be no such thing as justice, for justice inherently says, "This is right, and that is wrong." If truth is ultimately pure personal, then you cannot tell the person who says, "All those who engage in same-sex sexual activity should be shot" that he or she is wrong, because, if truth is ultimately only personal, they will simply be acting in accord with their truth if they engage in violence against those who engage in same-sex sexual behaviors.

If some things are true, then their contradictories cannot be. If you want to say that mutually exclusive claims are both true, all you do is invite chaos into the picture. We can tolerate people with a variety of differing opinions, even mutually contradictory opinions, but when it comes to acting on those opinions it is necessary to chose which we think to be the actual case.

I believe (along with many others) that humanity was created as "very good" but that we have rebelled against God and need to lay down our arms and return to his rule. You believe that humanity was created "very good," but I do not know what you think is the reason we engage in so many things that are selfish, that bring sorrow or pain to others, and so on. If it is not in a heart that is in rebellion against God and his rule, then what is the fundamental reason behind the misery we see? And what is the remedy?

MackBeemer said...

Hiram:

I appreciate your hunting about for supporters in your conversation with Mother Kaeton. But, I'd rather sit this one out. I'd appreciate it if you checked with me about my theological convictions and opinions before drafting me on your "side" of whatever the issue might be.

Mack Harrell
West Orange, NJ

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Nothing would delight me more than if Hiram and Mack had an opportunity to connect from this exchange.

Hiram, I still hear you making very expansive and sweeping comments. You still have a very low doctrine of humanity and I, no doubt, have a too high doctrine of humanity. The point is, we balance each other out.

I think that pleases the God who created us.

Mack - you are very wise to wait this one out. When I can screw up my courage I'll write on why I'm an evangelical - with a high doctrine of humanity.

MackBeemer said...

Elizabeth:

"high view of humanity..."

What, that worm, that swilleth iniquity like a sot?!!

Okay! Okay! I confess. I made a very very bad joke.

M

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hmm . . . funny.... I'm not laughing.

MackBeemer said...

Smiling, maybe?!

M

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Than? No.

Now? Okay, okay, okay.