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Monday, July 05, 2010

Makes me wanna holler

My friends in 12-Step Recovery Programs tell me that 'Coincidence' is the name God uses when S/he wants to remain anonymous.

Within the space of twenty four hours, I received three articles/emails which have inspired me to walk around the house singing in my very best Ethel Merman, "There's no business like church business like no business I know."

That's on a good day.

The first was this blog post, "Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor's Morale," by retired UCC Pastor, Richard Floyd.

These hit a nerve:
7.Whenever your pastor goes away and returns from denominational meetings or continuing education events never miss an opportunity to ask, “How was your vacation?”

8. Make sure the pastor is made aware of the two biggest complaints, namely, that he is never in the office, and he doesn’t make enough home visits. That the two cannot both be true will not diminish their use as morale crushers.

9. Tell the pastor that there are anonymous complaints that a. your sermons are too long; b. your voice is too soft to be heard (especially by the deaf); c. your spouse is not involved enough (or too involved) in the life of the congregation; d. your child shouldn’t have been given the lead in the Christmas pageant; e. your lawn needs mowing; and f. you were seen in shorts at the supermarket. This is just a sample list. Use your imagination.

10. Constantly compare your pastor to his long-tenured saintly predecessor, with special attention made to his never asking for a raise for himself or his staff.
Cue the choir: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love."

When I was in Provincetown last week, the Provincetown Banner had a story on page three which ran the headline "Hyder to take her leave from meeting house congregation".

I couldn't find a link for it, so you'll have to trust me on this (If anyone does find it, please let me know).

The story is about 52 year old Alison Hyde, Provincetown's UU Meeting House minister, who is leaving the church after 11 years.

The first paragraph reads:
"Resigning ahead of what she believes to be a pending request for her to leave by the church board of directors, Alison Hyder has given notice to the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House here after 11 years as is minister, the longest term served by a full-time pastor in the 181 year old church's history."
Why? You ask.
"I came across as too jocular. I'm not formal enough. I go to piano bars.They want the image of the meeting house to be more uniformly grand," she said.
There were also complaints that she "focused more on serving the Provincetown community than the UU members," even though board of Director's Chair, Barbara Loren-Murphy is quoted as saying that the UU Meeting House has been searching for a more community-oriented identity for more than a decade. The article continues,
"The church has a long history of community involvement. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, it turned its first floor into a hospital. Eighteen years ago it started the Soup Kitchen in Provincetown, which today serves lunch to about 80 people in need a day throughout the off season. And the church was deeply involved in the AIDS crisis in Provincetown, helping the community learn how to support the infected men who came here to die. But post-AIDS, the church has had difficulty finding a new mission, Loren-Murphey said.

"We as a congregation lost our outward focus. We didn't have any committees. We've had some issues," she said. "There were some, not nearly a majority, that really felt Alison wasn't ministerial enough. Their sense of ministerial was she was not formal enough. I personally did not agree. I thought she was wonderful for both the congregation and the community."

"Instead of a small family, which we've been, we want to be a moral beacon to the community. You need a leader (to do that), said Kujawa (another member of the board). "There are people with no place to live. People with no jobs. We would like to be more than just a very pleasant coffee hour."
Which, apparently, Ms. Hyder was trying to do. Except, apparently she wasn't doing it 'formally' enough - and, doing it while not taking care of some members of the community and the board. At least, not to their liking.

See also #8 in Reverend Floyd's 'morale crushers'.

The third came from a clergy colleague - very intelligent and very wise - who wrote in response to Reverend Floyd's article:
"Interestingly, I think all these issues are addressed in stories in Exodus and Numbers about various challenges to Moses' authority. Two stand out. The Golden Calf (let's take a vote and redesign our liturgy to make it more celebratory and give the congregation what makes sense and do what all the growing congregations are doing) and Korah's Rebellion (Why should any one person in the community have a special status. Are not all the people equal before God and cannot we all come before God on our own?)"
His particular take is that clergy have not been allowed - or have abdicated - our leadership role given to us at ordination. He continues:
"I wish we could have a forum for a further conversation about what it means in practical terms to say that we believe in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" and to reflect on what we think actually happens at (and in) ordination. If clergy are given the Spirit, then clergy are different from people who have not undergone that same process and experience; if clergy are not given the Spirit, what do we think we are doing when we lay hands on someone and ask that God give God's Spirit to them?"

"Our theology of the Trinity becomes active here--if the Spirit is an equal partner with the Father and the Son, someone in whom the Spirit dwells in an extraordinary fashion is significantly different from someone without that gift. If the Spirit is just a metaphor for some vague feeling of well being, then special possession of it does not matter so much. Every time we fudge the Trinitarian formula with various functional descriptors instead of names, we undermine the authority of ordained people."
I'm sure he's right and his point is a good one, and, in fairness, he was responding to Reverend Floyd's blog post, but I don't think authority is the entire problem.

We do seem to have lost our moral compass as a people, and clergy do not seem to be able to step up to the plate and provide direction. We've all caved in, it seems to me, to a "consumer model" of religion.

If "The customer is always right," then the business of church seems to be less about being "the church militant here on earth," leading us "nearer my God to thee" and more to a fast spiritual food franchise where "The King" let's us "have it your way."

In the midst of all of this, I came across an article by Methodist Minister Dan R. Dick in this month's Progressive Christian, "Measuring Faith: Metrics are no way to assess spiritual vitality."

He writes from his own denominational experience, but what he has to say is applicable to the experience of many, many institutional religions. He writes:
"Mainline denominations are in a panic. They’re losing members and resources, and they’re responding to the crisis with the best models that business schools can buy. The trouble is, the church of Jesus Christ isn’t a business, and to run it like a business may be one of major reasons that Protestant churches are in trouble numerically, and have so little moral influence on society today."
He makes the point that we confuse "indicators of vitality" with "activity" and they are not the same. Let me give you an example from the article. The first "indicator of vitality" in the Methodist Church is "Average worship attendance as a percentage of membership":
"This will not tell you anything more than how many people attend worship. True measures of spiritual growth and development must measure how a person is progressing in his or her relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This requires a set of standards, of which, worship attendance should certainly be one. But this should also include some measurement of prayer, study of scripture, service to others, relationship to the covenant community, etc.

“Membership,” as it stands in the current United Methodist Church must be evaluated in relationship to the clear promises we ask people to make. Until we are monitoring, assessing and evaluating how well people are growing in their commitments to “prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness” (the United Methodist membership vows), we have not measured anything truly valid or valuable. Survey after survey shows that people attend worship that they “like,” but very few evaluate the impact of worship on the gathered body. The much more compelling “percentage” measurement in vital churches is the percentage of active participants (members and regular “friends”) engaged in some form of ministry each week. The most vital churches I visit no longer count only Sunday morning worship attendance, but participation in Sunday school, Bible studies, church ministries, events, training, etc."
Reverend Dick ends with this important thought:
"Vitality is all around us, but we are going to continue to miss it if we continue counting what we have been counting through the past four decades of decline. Doing more of what we have already been doing that hasn’t been working seems like poor stewardship to me. We know what we should be measuring, but we don’t do it because it is more difficult. But until we suck it up and do the difficult work, nothing much is going to change. We have got to start looking at ourselves in a new light. What actually is changing in the church due to our best efforts? How much more “open” are we after a decade of “open hearts, open minds, open doors,” to quote the United Methodist Church’s 10-year-old tagline. How much church has been “rethought” to date and what difference did it make?

What we should be measuring is how well people have been equipped to live their faith in the world, and how our world is being transformed."
Reverend Dick makes a good point. It's much easier to count than analyze. It's much tougher to measure the impact we've made on the transformation of people's lives in bringing us closer to the Realm of God.

But, isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?

And, if we're not, perhaps we invite the very morale crushing behavior that knows no limits of denomination or creedal statement or liturgical expression.

Time for some 'tough love', I'm thinking. Jesus was always dishing it out to his disciples as well as those who sought him out for healing and pastoral care.

When his disciples complained to him that a large crowd - a few thousand people - had gathered to hear him as the hour grew late and there was nothing to feed them.

"Send them home," one report claims a disciple said. "Shall we go to town and buy food? Where will we get the money?" asked another. Yet another whined and said, "There's a little boy here with two fish and five loaves, but that's hardly enough."

You can almost hear Jesus sigh and say, "What do you have? Go and see."

That Jesus! Always empowering people. Always inspiring them to bring what they have to him - even the smallest amount - to be transformed.

"I obey all the laws. I'm a good, generous person." said the rich man, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus said, "Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow me."

I can't imagine saying that to a parishioner. Can you?

No wonder they wanted to kill him. He was lucky the rich man just walked away.

Then again, I don't recall Jesus having "office hours" much less an office. No pension plan or 401K. No car allowance or housing equity plan. Didn't even have a Temple. Just went to where people were.

Perhaps it is time to "suck it up" as Reverend Dick says. Unless we "do the difficult work," of going behind the numbers and evaluating ourselves and our churches "nothing is going to change."

There's another wise aphorism from the 12 Step Program: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting something to change."

Vitality is all around us.

I'm haunted by the story of the feeding of the five thousand and these words of Jesus "What do you have? Go and see."

That's when I'm not doing the same thing over and over while singing my best Ethel Merman like a crazy person.


Doorman-Priest said...

Id like to hear you sing that in true Ethel style. I can harmonise because I soooo love the church right now.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are on my darling. Call me. We'll harmonize and raise Ethel from the dead and make her proud.

June Butler said...

We've all caved in, it seems to me, to a "consumer model" of religion.

During my one term (Never to be repeated!) on the vestry of my church, I remember the wasted Saturdays learning the modified business model of doing church that, when implemented, would result in our church soaring to "success", whatever that meant, but surely to do with greater numbers in attendance at Sunday services.

My simple mind kept returning to the thought, "But the church is not a business! Imagine Jesus as the CEO of a business!"

susankay said...

As the person who prepares it, I worry that the parocial report we submit to the diocese is ALL numbers -- with the exception of some attendence figures, all the numbers have dollar signs attached. No one asks what we are DOING. Doesn't that send a message?

Anonymous said...

We all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, & part of what happens at ordination is receiving authority for specific responsibilities.
Tripartite formulas are sometimes Trinitarian, but usually not, so some education is needed. The use of 4 & 5 part formulas can help do this, especially when linked with refereneces to the Holy Trinity

Happy Booker said...

We all receive the Holy Spirit at
Ordination gives authority in some areas. Absolving, blessing, consecrating, etc.

Tripartite and Trinitarian are not synonymous. Perhaps more education is needed.

Happy Booker said...

Anonymous c'est moi! My second comment is more muddled. Forgetting one's password is such a drag!

Joie Weiher said...

I have to read this in two parts. Too close to so much of it right now. Loving the UCC minister's list and your response thus far.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I think "Congregational Development" stuff is mostly a crock. Business models - even modified ones" are somewhere on the lowest rungs of the Inferno.

But, I don't have strong feelings about any of this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - You are absolutely right on this, my dear. The message is loud and clear, however unintended.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MJ - You are splendid, anonymous or not.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Joie - We're ALL "too close" to all of this. Please do read Rev'd Dick's article in Progressive Christianity. It's well worth the read.

Lisa Fox said...

Amen, sistuh! The business model makes no sense for the church. I read these "congregational development" gurus in TEC, and they make me want to barf. How would they appraise the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth? Surely he was a failure, by the standards of our current Congregational Development Gurus.

I am inspired by your comments. I don't think ASA is a valid measure. (And, no, that's not just self-defense on my part ... as a member of a parish that has hovered around 140 ASA for nearly a decade.) I am convinced that -- if we could come up with a "measure of vitality," it would be something else altogether. And it would have a lot more to do with ministry than with showing-up.

While our parish attendance has remained stable/stagnant, our ministry -- within the parish and to the community -- most certainly has not! We are healthier ... we are different ... we are better than we were a decade ago. Even if we have the same number of "members," I believe those members have grown in mission and ministry and in spiritual maturity.

We need better matrixes which better reflect the health of our parishes.

Thanks for raising this issue, Elizabeth.

I still need to reflect on this further. But you raise questions that I believe are important.

You have inspired me to bloggery, which I shall go commit.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa - I do hope you commit "bloggery" on this topic. It's one that needs to be discussed much more widely. Vitality is all around us. We've just been looking at it through the wrong lens. The business lens.

BTW, Arlin Rothage, the 'guru' of congregational development, says that if your "numbers" have been stagnant for 10 years, you ARE in decline.

I think you should write to Mr. Rothage.

Happy Booker said...

And also are you!

Lisa Fox said...

Then Arlin Rothage is wrong!

When mainline churches are in decline, I argue that our holding steady in ASA is one measure of "success."

More importantly, our parish is expanding its ministries for the sake of those who will never sit in our pews. I believe that's what Jesus wanted us to do. In fact, I think that's what he did. He didn't grow the synagogue. But he fed the hungry, healed the sick, and proclaimed the kingdom of God was at hand to the outcasts.

Further, our members are becoming more spiritually mature.

I don't think Arlin Rothage or any of TEC's self-described "Congregational Development Experts" [most of whom seem to have Purple Fever] have found any way to measure that growth. As you observe, they are stuck in a corporate model that uses capitalistic measures. I do not believe those are valid.

The question is not how much market share we have, but how much we are seeking and serving Christ in all persons.

I double-dog dare them to find a matrix for that measure of our success.

Yep, I'm working on a blogpost of my own.

Deep thanks for raising this question, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Um . . well, okay then, Happy

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa, I'm looking forward to your blog. BTW, our "friend" over at SFiF, Mr. Matt, has posted Richard Floyd's blog piece with a note that he's so grateful that his congregation isn't like this at all.

I suppose if you keep people in an angry, victim stance they don't need to target their clergy. They're all victims over there.

Well, I suppose it's ONE strategy of survival.

Lisa Fox said...

I appreciate the dialogue, Elizabeth. I've drafted my blogpost, and it will appear tomorrow here.

I don't often go to the site of the Paranoid Little Stone Bridges. But LOL! I'm not at all surprised that Mattie hasn't experienced this. He's too busy keeping his flock in an "It's All About Me, The Martyr" mode. That's a sure-fire way to keep a cult united. He has learned his lessons from Jim Jones, and they are drinking the Kool-Aid.

Mary-Cauliflower said...

Hi All,

I read the full article, and I have to say that as a lay person active in mission, the list kinda hurt. I work very hard to support seminarians, clergy, and long-term missionaries. Yes, I've seen pretty nasty things done in churches - some of those things were done to clergy and others to lay people. There are also times when I feel very acutely the desire of the organized church to go after a younger, hipper demographic. (We middle aged types are welcome to continue cleaning out the undercroft, tithing, and and doing all our little well-meaning things.)

Perhaps the prayer challenge in all of this is realizing that ultimately a dysfunctional system harms all participants. Maybe my task is to be willing to give up what I'm "getting" out of these unhealthy dynamics.

Matthew said...

I'm not sure how you square the business model of the church with diaconal ministries? Then again, one of the ongoing battles in my parish has been how much money we give to support the ministries of our deacon (food, clothes, etc).

Malcolm+ said...

Here is the comment I also made over at Lisa's site.

The reason we focus on bums in pews and cash in plate is because those are easy to measure and objectively verifiable. It's difficult to measure "vitality" at the best of times, and particularly to do so in a way that is even vaguely objective.

And there's nothing wrong with measuring ASA and $$$ - as long as one remembers that those aren't a complete picture. As I've always told clients looking at polls or other data, numbers tell you what they tell you - and that is ALL they tell you. The problem is, we keep assuming that numbers tell us more than they really do.

So we assume thhat more bums and more bucks means a healthy parish - and often it does. But not always. We assume that fewer bums and fewer bucks means an unhealthy parish - and often it does. But not always.

Where I hang my biretta, we're using Natural Church Development precisely because it makes an effort to measure things besides bums and bucks - and because it focusses on parish health, not parish growth. The underlying thesis is that if we look after making the parish healthy and vital, the growth will look after itself.

I'll let you know how it goes as we progress.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Malcolm - thanks for your contribution to the conversation. I am about to post something to Lisa's site, too - mainly that it's not "either/or". It's both/and. The numbers are meaningless without spiritual depth and vitality - and, spiritual depth and vitality just becomes a "Navel gazing Club" if we don't bring people in or do the work of God's mission. I'm interested to know how your work progresses. Please keep us posted.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. You put a lot of thought into this, as well as the comments.

Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for this dialogue, Elizabeth. I agree with you that "numbers are meaningless without spiritual depth and vitality" and it's not either/or. But I am sick of those congregational development "experts" who think it's all about the numbers. And I am sick and tired of Kendall Harmon, who loves to link to each parish's numbers as if it's a gauge of their health.

Yes, numbers matter. But those who worship them are idolaters.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

We agree, my sister. I was tired of 'congregational development' about 6 years ago. Ever notice that people who are 'congregational officers' for their diocese or 'consultants' have (1) never been a rector (2) failed miserably as a rector (3) are members of the laity and never been a rector.

When I'm in a good mood, something about 'the road to hell being paved with good intentions' comes to mind.

Don't get me started.

Lisa Fox said...

You forgot one more characteristic of the tribe, Elizabeth:

#4: An amazing number of them show an unhealthy lust for a purple shirt.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

...not to mention in any given diocese, I bet "in the know" rank and file in the pews could guess those with purple fever in their own diocese with >95% accuracy.

klady said...

Not sure if I have added anything to the conversation, but here's my (rather lengthy) take on it: <a href=">here</a>

Malcolm+ said...

Again, I'm repeating the post from Lisa's blog.

Here's the link to NCD Canada (, and the main NCD site is here (

It really is an international thing, with partners in most countries / regions. The ultra-condensed version is this:

* The founder, Christian Schwartz, did extensive studies of church membership and growth in the earli 90s.

* Based on this, he identified eight metrics for congregational health which seemed to apply regardless of the type of church it was. The naming of the metrics (ie, "Empowering Leadership" vice merely "Leadership") is significant. The metrics are:
** Empowering Leadership
** Gift-Based Ministry
** Passionate Spirituality
** Effective Structures
** Inspiring Worship Service
** Holistic Small Groups
** Need-Oriented Evangelism
** Loving Relationahips

* NCD uses a congregational survey (30 selected based on established criteria) to assess the metrics.

* The recommended NCD methodology is not to "build on your strength," but rather to strengthen your minimum factor.

* Best of all, they don't tell you HOW to address your minimum factor(s). They merely help you get a realistic assessment of what your relative strengths and weaknesses are.

NCD is pretty big in the Canadian dioceses of Toronto and Edmonton.

Malcolm+ said...

Now, another comment.

After reading Klady's piece, I was moved to think about those who are adamantly "either-or" on this. We've discussed the foibles of the "growth is all about numbers" crowd. But sometimes the arguments against "growth is all about numbers" seem to be less about alternate measurements of vitality than justifications for the lack of both vitality and growth.

(BTW, while Klady's post started my thinking, I'm not suggesting at all that Klady was taking that kind of line.)

What I mean is that we sometimes take refuge in "I'd rather have spiritual growth than numerical growth" when what's really happening is that we're afraid to upset the apple cart in the pusuit of either numerical or spiritual growth.

I think we should acknowledge that there is likely to be a positive corelation between congregational health and vitality on the one hand and ASA / $$$ on the other.

In other words, all other things being equal, congregational health and spiritual vitality will usually be reflected in incremental increases in ASA and $$$. And conversely, declining ASA and $$$, all other things being equal, will usually indicate a problem with congregational health and spiritual vitality.

Certainly these will not always be true - not even nearly always. All things will frequently be unequal. But they are true somewhat more often than not. These are easily accessible indicators that we shouldn't ignore.

By analogy, if I see a man who is 5'10 and weighs 300 lbs, I know that this will usually mean he is at high risk of health problems like heart attack or diabetes. If I see a man who is 6'2" and weighs 190 lbs, this will usually mean that this man is at far lower risk of both diseases.

Yet within the last two weeks, two former professional hockey players in their mid-40s have died of heart attacks.

ASA and $$$ are very useful indicators - provided we don't use them in isolation (at least not routinely) and that we don't assume them to be the be all and end all.

But conversely, we should not allow a rhetorical commitment to congregational health and spiritual vitality to become a convenient excuse - and particularly so when there is no serious attempt to measure whether congregational health or spiritual vitality.