Magical Thinking Kills

Maybe your place of worship resembles Hogwarts. Cool.

I personally love a beautiful place of worship: candles and rafters and stone and carved angels. Some of us find peace just sitting in a sanctuary with stained glass and gothic architecture. If the place feels magical, maybe something extraordinary will happen . . .

One of the mistakes churches are making everywhere I look involves magical thinking and it has little to do with architecture or design. It’s all about looking backwards, culturally speaking.

Magical thinking for a Pastor Nominating Committee:

  • If we call a young pastor, people will come.
  • If we (a predominantly white congregation) call a Person of Color, People of Color will come.
  • If we call a pastor with little children, more families with children will come.

These ideas worked 30 years ago. They do not work now. They maybe didn’t even work 30 years ago.

Magical thinking for governing bodies:

  • We have a big enough endowment that we can afford ______.
  • I know we have investments to keep us afloat.
  • Our treasurer of 20 years tells us we are fine financially.

These are dangerous assumptions. My own experience as a denomination leader over the past 10+ years have included experiences with churches who call pastors they cannot afford to pay with long time treasurers who use money or resources set aside for one purpose to pay for a different one.

Magical thinking for Pastors:

  • If I lay low and keep the key members happy, things will be fine until I retire.
  • If I use my continuing education money to go on vacation, I can read a book or two about faith formation or stewardship and nobody will be the wiser.
  • If I take naps every afternoon, nobody will notice that I’m not doing my job.

This makes my heart hurt. We Pastors were not called to pat people on the heads or take advantage of our role to unsuspecting parishioners. We are called to love God’s people and hold them accountable and expect them to hold us accountable.

Jesus was not a magician. His miracles were not magic tricks.

Faith in God is not magical. We don’t pray for a parking space and –poof!— one appears.

Magical thinking – no matter who’s doing it in our congregations – might just be the death of us. Facing reality makes amazing things happen. How are we doing with this, friends?

7 responses to “Magical Thinking Kills

  1. Great thoughts. I was tempted to say, “Magical”!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amy Williams Fowler

    They did not work 30 years ago! That’s how we got here.


  3. Magical thinking is believing if we throw $10,000 at a media guru for promoting an expanded school day for the church’s preschool that more worshipers with children will arrive at our church doors. (I am not making this up.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lot to ponder… Growing up in a parsonage as a kid of a pastor with large UCC congregations, I learned alot by listening and observing everything. In fact, what I saw led me to do something emotionally safer, I became an Austin Texas Cop (2-million pop) in the toughest of assignments East Side (nighly shootings) Organized Crime Div: Major Crimes, Meth-Lab Response Team. At 37 I liquidated my fully vested retirement and 3,000 Sq ft home and went seminary with children ages 5, 2, 1. I remember some of the 23 year olds talking about it was hard for them, yet when they wanted to eat the did, needed a nap took it. You don’t do those things with children.
    Then there were the students who had already retired, their home was paid of and their spouse was retired, children grown.

    Seminarians with children really struggled. The only ones respected more (in our family section of Seminary housing at LPTS) were our friends who were single moms, students with challenges, and the Korean students with families. They had to learn English so they could learn Hebrew and Greek.

    How much a person risks and how vulnerable they are in their leap is faith.

    As a pastor with a wonderful spouse and 4 children having helped 3 congregations become Open & Affirming, and grow even during CV19 I can say I take naps whenever I can grab them. The 3 years during CV19 I was not able to use my Annual week of Continuing Ed nor and only 3 weeks of 12-weeks earned and my 90-sabbatical was 3-years overdue.

    Once through CV19 and my 20th year of parish ministry and volunteer police chaplain, I crashed and I crashed hard. I rode through the storm with my congregation and we grew in many important areas and yet their was a resentment that I would finally use my sabbatical and Continuing Ed time.

    It’s shocking when your the pastor that you are the 8th highest giver in the church while barely scraping by with 4 kids, (and 7 surguries to repair trauma from my days as a cop)

    Take your naps. In many countries it is customary. Get the job done, the visits made, be with people but never feel guilty for taking naps working a 60-hour plus work week.

    Continuing Ed can even be a time of stillness in nature, a week to recover from working 60-70 hour weeks. Never chest but be creative or it’s hard for you and your spouse to get time to recover especially if you have children.


  5. Pingback: Making Up Numbers Is a Terrible Idea | A Church for Starving Artists

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