Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is it Okay to Poach Church Staff Members?

Nobody told me in seminary how much time would be spent recruiting, training, and supervising staff when I was a parish pastor.

Within Church World, there are certain administrators, musicians, worship and arts leaders, youth minister, and educators who are known to be Amazing. They are creative, efficient, positive, and fun to work with. And they are highly valued and rare.

So is it cool to poach a stellar youth minister from another congregation in town? Is it okay to check out the website of a partner church – known for great music – and contact their musician with an offer?

Things to consider:

  • Churches don’t own their staff members. Staff members can come and go as they wish, and who can blame them for leaving one position to accept another more lucrative, more interesting position?
  • All spiritual communities – especially those in the same denomination – are on the same team in terms of our mission and purpose – more or less. All (healthy) houses of worship exist to serve God, worship together, learn together, serve the neighborhood together. Our relationships with each other impact the effectiveness of our ministry and how we model to the world how believers treat each other. And so if I contact your church administrator and offer him a position in our “bigger and better” congregation, I am hurting our relationship. The least you could do is have a conversation with me about your interest in hiring someone on our staff.

Headhunters exist to find great employees and some large congregations indeed hire them to find The Right Pastor. God can work through headhunters.

But it’s different with most church staff members. Many are part-time. Many have relationships with a wide variety of church volunteers with whom they serve. If they are looking for new employment, there are Employment Opening sites. But when a Big Church Pastor lures the Small Church Pastor’s business manager who wasn’t looking to move, it feels icky. A little too 2 Samuel 12.

On the subject of poaching church members, we need to be happy when congregants can connect with God at a different church if they can’t connect in ours any longer. This is what we want, right? For people to be in a deeper relationship with God?

But if you lure members of other churches with unsolicited hospital visits and dropping off homemade bread at their door because you heard that they were not happy in their current church, you are a little devious.

This is all about healthy relationships. If we are in doubt about the right way to recruit staff members or welcome new members, it’s good to ask if anything we are doing might be damaging our relationship with our neighbors in faith. The hope is that we are all living in good faith.

Dear People Who Want to Talk about Yancey Strickler’s Book

I will probably regret this.

There are so many of you who’ve expressed an interest in talking about This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World that I’m (foolishly) putting the links here online. I’ve lost all track of the people who want to participate as names have come to me from a variety of means. The first Zoom conversation will be:

Wednesday, September 22 at Noon ET – Conversation about Part 1 – How We Got Here
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85327109379?pwd=cUYwb04zeWhyTTBPNnkxSGFqVDhPUT09
Meeting ID: 853 2710 9379
Passcode: 677602

I’ll share the second link for the Thursday, September 30 at the first gathering. Since this is just me doing this because I really like this book, we won’t have breakout groups. This won’t be an in-depth book discussion. It’s my hope that something will spark in your life that makes the world a better place.

Please read the book whether you join us or not.

History is Complicated

Someone once said to me, “Slavery is complicated.” Actually there is nothing complicated about slavery. Many families in both the North and the South became wealthy because of unpaid labor in the first 100 years of this nation’s establishment and those unpaid laborers were enslaved because of their heritage and skin color.

Enslaved African-American were held against their will. They were not considered fully human. In fact they were considered only 3/5s of a person by the U.S. Government in 1787.

And if they escaped from their slaveholders to the “free North” they and those who assisted them could be arrested, according to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. (Nothing’s new under the sun.)

And most importantly, slaveholders were more interested in their own economic survival – and wealth -than the fact that they believed they could actually own other human beings who were created in God’s Image.

Slavery is not complicated.

Please feel free to challenge me on this. When the Bible speaks of slavery, it’s not what was happening with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

But history is indeed complicated.

I don’t do weddings at former plantations. It’s like celebrating at a prison camp and even though it might be a pretty prison camp, it’s still the site of violence and darkness. And so I walked down the long, luscious driveway of a “farm” in Albemarle County, Virginia to officiate at the wedding of a special couple in my life, my heart sank. “This is a former plantation that held enslaved people,” I thought to myself. The wedding invitation called the venue a farm. The owners call it a farm.

I’ve been doing some research. The property includes slave graves haphazardly located around the property. And the owners also say that they’ve found a tunnel under the outbuildings which was used by The Underground Railroad. Those on this beautiful “farm” both enslaved human beings and helped enslaved human beings. Both things could be true. It also could be true that the owners didn’t actually find a tunnel but it makes it more palatable to tell people their home was part of The Underground Railroad. In my research about other UR locations in Virginia, their home is not mentioned.

My point is that learning our history- however difficult- is important. But let’s not stop there.

Responding to our history – whether it involves our own family tree or the property on which we live – shows that we want to repair the breach. It signifies that we recognize the humanity of those who were not considered fully human in the past. It means we are committed to seeing all people as God’s Children.

It was a beautiful wedding. We pray for a future that’s beautiful for all people.

Image of the Estouteville Farm in Albemarle County, Virginia.

Correcting Scientific Ignorance

It used to be true that the earth was flat. Then it was true that the earth was round. Now it’s true that the earth is rather egg-shaped and seems to be on the verge of being hard-boiled. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s amazing what the LORD has let us learn” and much of that knowledge involves scientific progress.

It’s also true that we seek scientific confirmation for what we already believe.

It used to be “true” that women would collapse and die if they tried to run 800 meters, much less a marathon. In 1928, the International Olympic Committee actually banned women from running more than 200 meters in competition. And so when Joan Benoit ran the women’s marathon in 2:24:52 in 1984, it was a relief to see her successfully win the Olympic Gold Medal without collapsing or dying. In fact, she glowed with health.

Yesterday, my Presbytery offered what has become the required Anti-Racism Training and I couldn’t be prouder or more impressed with how it’s going. (Note: We are using Dr. Lucretia Carter Berry’s What Lies Between Us developed by brownicity.)

With all the erroneous information being shared about what Critical Race Theory is, what we believe about race is all over the place – in spite of what the science says. For that matter, we seem to be all over the place when it comes to science in general. (No, the Covid vaccine doesn’t lead to sterility, blindness, or governmental mind control.)

What has been disproven by science regarding race is still believed by – perhaps – the majority of white people. I encourage you to watch Race: The Power of an Illusion which was part of our training yesterday. For the entire history of the United States and much of the world, we have been taught that science “proves” that “the white race” is the most advanced demographic of human beings. Science has actually proven this to be a lie.

Race is a construct created to perpetuate this lie. It’s not true that people with black skin are better athletes than people with pale skin. It’s not true that people with light skin are better students than people with dark skin. I learned yesterday that it’s not even true that people with black skin are the only humans susceptable to the sickle cell trait. It’s about geography. People with light colored skin are also susceptable to the trait if they happen to live in equatorial Africa because the trait is a genetic protection against malaria.

It’s amazing what the LORD has let us learn. And this God who created us and continues to create us expects us to use our minds to understand that part of God’s creative mastery is expressed in human differences. There are women who can run marathons and there are people with black skin who are mathematical geniuses and there are men who are gentle caregivers and there are white people who have the sickle cell trait and there are brown people who are musical savants. The world God made is colorful and multifarious. This makes a huge difference in how we relate to each other as human beings. Judging each other based on scientifically disproven “facts” only tears us apart.

Also, please get a Covid vaccine if you can.

Image of Joan Benoit who won the Gold Medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. It was the first time women were allowed to compete in a marathon event for the Olympics. Source

Kindness Makes All the Difference

I continue to relish in First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte’s 200th Anniversary Celebration last Sunday. Yes, the music and sermon and liturgy were all inspiring and perfect. And there was something else: obvious kindness shown between members and guests and volunteers and staff.

This is a must-read article from The Atlantic if you are in a relationship with a partner/husband/wife and also if you happen to be part of a church community. It’s not like church relationships are the same as marriage, but many of us crave a spiritual community that feels like home, just like many of us crave a partner that feels like home.

This pandemic has made some tempers shorter and it sometimes shows up in church.

Kind: The music from last Sunday isn’t usually my favorite but it was so joyful!

Not Kind: The music from last Sunday was an embarrassment. Since when are we trying to be The Grand Ole Opry?

The Atlantic article examines the differences between marriages that work and marriages that don’t work, and kindness plays a role. (Again, read the article.) And the points made can also be said about congregations.

  • Do we bring a spirit of kindness and generosity to our congregation or do we bring a spirit of hostility? (For non-churchy readers: yes some of us in churches can be very cranky as a way of life.)
  • Do we appreciate each other? The person who has never been thanked after 15 years of setting up for coffee hour might become resentful.
  • Are we generous in giving leaders the benefit of the doubt or are we scanning the room for mistakes leaders might be making?
  • Do our church members feel cared for and validated for their gifts or are we mostly concerned that they “stay active” and “keep pledging.”

The term “acts of kindness” has become banal, but these are the times – when the future feels uncertain and anxieties are on the rise – when kindness makes the difference between a thriving congregation and a dying one.

The Way We Learn Our Own History

For some of us it’s easier than others.

Last Friday night, my Edmiston family enjoyed a Post-Wedding celebration (thank you Covid) and while there were no formal family history shares, I love how the brain (i.e. the Spirit) reminds us of moments we might have forgotten. While watching my cousins and sister dancing to Justin Timberlake in a circle, I flashed back to the same people – as children – dancing to Sammy Davis, Jr. in our cousins’ living room.

On Saturday, my Linker cousins enjoyed a luncheon at the table of our matriarch while passing around old photos and telling stories that reminded me of my grandmother’s spark and my mother’s grace. I also got to hear stories they would never have told me as a child.

On Sunday, First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte celebrated their 200th Anniversary and the preacher took us back to all those who had walked along the road by the church building from the Native Catawba to the NFL Panthers. And as I spent part of the afternoon reading Lois Stickell’s 200 Years in the Heart of Charlotte: A History of First Presbyterian Church, I was grateful for her truth-telling in times when truth-telling feels rare:

At the dawn of creation, a billion years ago, the land that First Presbyterian Church occupies did not exist. No land existed east of where the Blue Ridge Mountains sit today. There was only an ocean with islands and small continents. As tectonic plates shifted, those pieces of land collided to create eastern North America. Seven hundred million years later, the African plate hit the North American plate with enough force to create mountain ranges as tall as the Himalays all the way to middle Tennessee. Lois Stickell

Reading this brought great comfort to me. It shares the geological science that tells a story much different from the Genesis story of the world being created in 7 days, and that’s fine with me. The Bible is not a science book. It’s the story of God’s power and unmeasurable love.

The preacher proclaimed Good News from The Parable of the Good Samaritan and I remember that Jesus – like most rabbis – explained things through parables which are the shocking stories told to reveal the depths of God’s love. Jesus made up this story to make a point: that those who show mercy are our neighbors – even if they are the most unlikely candidates.

As we go along the ancient and new roads of life, we are called to be neighbors if only we will see them all as God’s children.

Some of our personal stories, some of our church stories, some of our national stories are crushing. Along with those family members who showed mercy, there are always those who traumatized us. Along with the church stories that led us to Jesus and filled our souls to the bursting, there are always stories of exclusion and cruelty. Along with the stories of our nation living in unity and pulling together to bring healing after 9/11, there are heinous stories of unspeakable brutality again Natives and the Enslaved, not to mention the reactions of some of us to show intolerance towards Muslims after the Towers fell.

My neighbors – and my family – include heroes and rounders, saints and sinners, and so do yours. It’s not only good to see all their faces. It’s good to remember that we need mercy as much as the next person.

Image of Wade Hampton Linker – my great-grandfather – who was surely a good and also imperfect man. He was named for Confederate General Wade Hampton who is lauded as a great leader who also held 335 human beings as slaves in 1860.

Twenty Years Later, We Still Pray for Peace

From an article by the PCUSA news service for the first anniversary of 9/11.

The End of Casseroles?

I still remember the Chicken and Broccoli Casserole Mary Moretz brought to our home after Mom died. It was so comforting and after she shared the recipe, it became a staple in our household when the kids were young. Broccoli, chicken, cheese, sour cream, and a can of cream of mushroom soup. Lots of fat and salt and deliciousness.

I’ve written about the culture shifts involving sanctified casseroles before, but COVID has changed things even further. Not only do we Emergency Meal Providers need to worry about food preferences, allergies, and special diets, but now there’s the concern that we could be spreading COVID between each other’s kitchens.

So now we send Food Delivery Gift Cards – at least if we live in urban/suburban parts of the world.

It’s kind of perfect in that a family can order from hundreds of restaurants exactly what they feel like eating when they feel like eating it, and there are no dishes to return. Voila. The purpose of providing a meal has been achieved: the family didn’t have to cook while welcoming a new baby/grieving a loss/recovering from surgery/waiting for a family member to be discharged from the hospital.

What we miss in not having a homecooked meal could be important. I’m not sure yet.

It’s indeed so meaningful to know that someone made soup or a chicken and broccoli casserole from scratch. But if the purpose is to show love and concern, a Door Dash card can bring the same kind of relief. If we want to offer that personal touch, we can deliver the gift cards in person to say a quick “hi” and “how are things?”

The world is changing and this includes the neighborly practice of taking casseroles to people in need. There are things to lament about such cultural shifts and there are things to applaud. Both are true.

Stuff We Need to Know in the Post-Pandemic Church: We Need Cults

Bear with me here. I remember how disconcerting it sounded when my Hebrew and Greek Bible professors in seminary spoke of “the Israelite cult” or ‘the cult of Jesus.” To me, cults were about madmen who literally forced followers to drink the Kool-Aid or commanded that they torture and kill starlets in LA.

But the historic and linguistic definition of “cult” is simply this:

A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. Source.

Every house of faith is experiencing less participation these days. And it’s not necessarily because of a lack of spiritual hunger. Followers of Jesus, followers of Muhammed, followers of Moses, followers of Ganesh, followers of Guru Nanak have quite of bit of competition – although I’m not sure that “competition” is the right word.

Imagine that you are a 25 year old whose parents or grandparents grew up in The Church. It was an essential part of their lives and from cradle to grave, they belonged to a community of faith that brought meaning to them.

In the experience of a 25 year old living in the 21st Century, Roman Catholic priests have been found guilty of tolerating pedophilia to the highest levels. Church leaders in the news have shown themselves to being greedy, untrustworthy, and homophobic. Churches have seemed out of touch at best and dangerous at the worst.

Don’t get me wrong, there are “systems of religious veneration and devotion” that continue to thrive these days for many young people related to Jesus: Young Life. International Justice Mission. Montreat Conference Center. Elevation Church. The Cool Bible Study. Note: There is richness about allegiance in these organizations. And also – in the strictest definition of the word – they can be cultish.

Amanda Montell has written a brilliant book about Cults in terms of both the sinisters ones and the helpful ones that bring meaning and community to seekers. Again – forget David Koresh and Q-Anon (although she addresses those too.) Consider Soul Cycle, Noom, Dave Ramsey, Pelaton, Ted Lasso. All have their devotees. All have a special language and a sense of being on the inside.

Repeat after me: Roy Kent! Roy Kent! He’s here. He’s there’s . . .

We are devoted to many things in these days. Among other things, I am devoted to Ted Lasso. And also Giddy Goat Coffee, The Bento Society, Public Libraries, Fleabag (still), and British mysteries. And to Jesus most of all – I pray.

It used to be true that we were devoted to fewer things and one of them was Church. It was once something special to be a member of Big Steeple Church because it meant you were connected to Important Citizens in your community. We knew all the inside words: special music, narthex, circle meetings – not to mention words like Pentecost and Confirmation and Eucharist. Even if yours was Small Steeple Church, you were probably devoted.

I remember taking an unbelieving friend to worship with me several years ago and when I asked afterwards what she thought, she said this, “There were a couple of times, it felt like a cult.” She was referring to the mindless recitation of The Apostles Creed – with people staring into space and speaking words without much consideration for what we were saying.

One more time: I’m referring to “cults” according to the traditional definition. And yet, while we have often recited creeds and prayers and scripture passages mindlessly, we have displayed little devotion to Jesus. Devotion to the institutional church maybe, but not so much about God.

When I was co-leading the national denomination of the PCUSA (2016-2018) speaking all over the place about The Church, more than one person pointed out that I had swallowed the Kool-Aid. Yes. And I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is doing extraordinary things to transform the world that rarely get any press – from disaster assistance to affordable housing projects to jobs training programs to youth programs that welcome kids who have never felt welcomed before. The Institutional Church is a hot mess. And, it’s also saving lives on our most faithful days.

As we are considering what the post-pandemic Church might look like, we need to remember that every human being wants to be valued. Every human being wants to belong. Every human being seeks community that’s meaningful and safe. Every human being is struggling with something. Every human being carries a measure shame with them. Every human being is made in the image of God.

Congregations that only perpetuate themselves offering programs that don’t feed anybody’s soul and filled with people who are gossipy and mean and spiritually immature will never be the community that people crave. And they will not survive the culture shifts that are upon us. And this is okay. Because Jesus calls us to be a Body of people who are different from the world, and if we aren’t then we indeed need to shutter our doors and allow something new to be born.

I’d love to hear about your favorite cults from Harry Potter to Accupuncture to Trader Joe’s. And – for what it’s worth – my deepest devotion remains “the cult of Jesus.” I still believe that the world will be saved through him.

Vacation

Blessings to you these last summer days. I’m taking a break on writing new posts until after Labor Day.