Rule Changes

Don’t you hate it when people change the rules in the middle of theSorry Game game?

[Note: I’m a big fan of professional coaches who help sort of work-related shifts and other quirky features of our vocations. This post was shaped by my own coach.  So thank you JH.]

Anxiety is high for many of our pastors and many of our churches.  We have pastors who are doing their best but what they learned in seminary isn’t working any more.  We have congregations who wonder what happened to the full pews of years past.

The truth is that the rules have changed.  And – in addition to anxiety – some of us are angry.

As for pastors, we learned in seminary how to exegete and interpret Scripture, how to visit the sick and bury the dead, how to officiate a meaningful wedding or baptism or communion service.  We learned how to run a meeting.  But now, ministry is less about management and more about leadership, and we don’t know how to lead in this ever-changing culture.  We have no idea how to reach out to digital generations.  We are blamed by our congregations for the low attendance and diminishing coffers.  But we are doing the best we can . . . and if we could Just Hold On until retirement. . .   Maybe it’s five years away or maybe it’s ten years away, but we need to keep our jobs.  But we are tired.

As for congregations, we are dizzy from global changes.  There are fruits we don’t recognize in the produce department of the grocery store, much less characters we don’t recognize on reality television.  The world is spinning out of control according to news reports about Ebola and human trafficking and gun violence and chemical warfare.  There are videos of beheadings, for Pete’s sake.  So, with the world whirling around us, can’t we just sit in familiar pews, singing familiar hymns, praying familiar prayers and hear a comforting sermon?  We thought we only had to be Good Church Members.  Now we’re told we have to Disciples. What does that even mean?  We’ve been in the church all our lives.  And now we’re tired.

As JH pointed out, some of us react to these rule changes with anger – which is connected to grief.  It’s simply where we are.

So, here’s my quandary:  what do we do with both our tired pastors and tired congregations?  They are good people for whom the rules have changed.

I have my thoughts, but would also appreciate yours:

  • Let’s respect and love those who have served faithfully, working with them according to their generational proclivities.
  • Let’s ask questions that point to our future:  How can we retire well? What legacy do we want to leave for our church?  What do we want for our congregation ten years from now?
  • What are we willing to give up for the sake of the Gospel?
  • What are we afraid of giving up?
  • Where is the joy in our ministry right now (whether we are the pastor or the congregation)?

Yes, the rules have changed.  And – honestly – I for one am not sorry about this. This is a great time to be The Church and a great time to serve The Church. But we need to learn some new ecclesiastical, cultural, and spiritual rules.  It’s going to be okay.

Image source.

6 responses to “Rule Changes

  1. Rule #1: God is the subject. So much of my own navigating of this work in this time makes the culture or the church or myself the subject. God is the subject of our calling. Always.


  2. This is a very confusing time for many people, and not just in the church world. Part of the difficulty is that there are no new “rules” yet, and people (especially middle age and older) don’t know what’s expected of them. I appreciate your point of respect for the older ones in the church who have served, and often sacrificed, faithfully throughout their lifetime–many of them living the lives of effective disciples in an earlier time. It’s wearisome and upsetting to hear that they should have been “doing” their faith differently. Something I see in my own church is that our new, young pastor has difficulty communicating effectively about the changes at hand. For the young who enjoy “random” thoughts and activities it works, but for those who are just beyond that merely hearing that church has to be done differently is not enough. What does different mean? What are we hoping to achieve? How is having an espresso station in the foyer and all leaders wearing the new uniform of jeans and untucked shirts going to make a difference? The call for discipleship is not new. How is the discipleship of 15 years ago different from discipleship today? It takes perseverance on all sides to recalibrate a church.

    Blessedly the power and truth of the gospel remains unchanged.


  3. I’ve been using the image of a firm footing and an ice rink.

    As a pastor of a 159 year old congregation that is very traditional in its understanding of how to “do” church I want to have one foot deeply rooted in the faith that got us here, the familiar hymns, the familiar prayers, etc. I think it’s important, as you said, to honor those who have come before us and led us to this new space.

    The other foot is not so firmly planted. It feels like a tap shoe on an ice rink trying to gain a foothold in whatever the “new normal” is or the “new rule” is for my context. I’m trying to find those places that help, as Rocky said, to keep God as the subject of new rules. Trying to find an avenue to share the gospel to people that have drifted away or who are adrift in their life, all while trying not to split my pants or fall on my face (metaphorically speaking).

    This is both exciting, scary, and frustrating at times. That’s why I’m glad for social media and a connected church so I can see what others are doing and listen for God in all the tweets, posts, ideas, conferences, and snapchats.


  4. I often think of the parable of the sower…..I think we need to be like dandelions, well-rooted but blowing as many seeds as we can to plant new things….we can do new and old things both… our God the God of both the here-and-now and the resurrection-to-come…


  5. Great post, thank you. I can change “churches” to “theological schools” and the message will parallel. I agree, exciting times, but not for the meek, anxious, or those who want to be taken care of.


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