Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blessed

Every month I get together with a group of pastors for lunch. It's a denominational thing - these are men and women who pastor Covenant Churches in the South Puget Sound area.

It's a good group of men and women. We gather around the table and share a meal, we listen to and pray for each other. We share the struggles and the joys of our lives, professional and personal. We laugh and sometimes we cry.

I see many of these same men and women at other denominational activities, and I'm always happy when I do, because I consider them friends. I have shared much of my life with these people, and they have cared for me. Many of them have shared the deep places of their journey, and allowed me to care for them. It is a true collegial relationship, based on love, respect, mutual care, and a healthy sense of our primary mission - to serve Christ's church.

Every month I get together with a different group of pastors for lunch. It's a smaller group - only about 5 of us, usually. It's the pastors who serve churches in our local community, the Key Peninsula (and we let one Gig Harbor guy in since he's a nice guy). We gather around the table and share a meal, we listen to and pray for each other. We share the struggles and joys of our lives, professional and personal. We laugh and sometimes we cry.

I see these men around town on occasion, at community events or at the grocery store, and I'm always happy when I do, because I consider them my friends. I have shared much of my life with these people, and they have cared for me.

Earlier this week, this local group of pastors headed overseas (well, across the channel) to Anderson Island and spent about 48 hours praying and playing, reading and thinking, laughing and eating, walking and staring out the window at the beauty of Puget Sound in the fall. We shared our favorite Psalms, we prayed for ourselves, our churches, our community. We each prepared a meal for the group. We worshiped and we told lame jokes. We played silly games and we talked about intricate theological disputes. We ended around the Lord's Table, one group of Jesus followers united in our purpose and position.

I realize I am blessed, and I am fortunate. In too many places (I've been in some of them) churches and their pastors are territorial and competitive, angry and bitter, judgmental and argumentative. Too many pastor refuse to fellowship with other pastors who don't hold to their particular understanding of inerrancy. Too many pastors spend their time building their own little kingdoms. One pastor told me recently that she would never dare share her personal struggles with her cluster group; if she did, the gossip and politicking would be relentless, destroying her work and calling in that community.

It is, then, such a beautiful thing to gather with fellow men and women who serve the gospel, and to experience true humility, true love for Christ and his church, true commitment to the mission above petty disputes, true hunger to share in the work of ministry together, true willingness to be open and honest, to ask for help, to share struggles, to admit temptation and defeat.

It's as if the Kingdom of God has come to earth, and as Jesus prayed, his followers are of one mind and heart. I get to live it out in the here and now, and for that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A couple of book reviews about books about church leadership

Over the last few weeks I've finished two different books related to church leadership.

The first was Simple Church, which we read as a group project for the Lakebay Church board.






Based on an extensive research project, Simple Church argues that churches are weighted down by complexity, busy-ness, and too many ministries and programs; at the same time, they lack clear vision, focus, and direction. The most important task of the church - building disciples - is lost in the chaos of events and programs and structure.

Simple Church calls churches to refocus, to reclaim their vision, to find their one true calling, and to reorganize around that task. Beyond simply sharing the facts deduced from their research (which are impressive and comprehensive enough to prove their point), the authors describe how to begin to reclaim a simplicity of style and structure, in order that churches would become more effective at living out the gospel.

There were parts of the book I found aggravating - too much statistical information interrupting the flow, attempts at light-heartedness that seemed forced, illustrations that didn't exactly track with the central point - but the overall premise is worth reading and understanding. Rainer and Geiger make clear that Simple Church isn't a program to adopt, but a philosophy to guide and direct whatever program a church decided to pursue.

It is also an easy read, not requiring a college degree to understand, and sincerely lacking in seminary-level words, which the Lakebay board very much appreciated.

The other book, which I mostly read while relaxing in my hammock during the last sunny days of Fall, was How Your Church Family Works by Peter Steinke.



HYCFW is a slightly older book (first published in '93), but I found it one of the most useful ministry-related books I've read. Steinke takes Family Systems Theory and applies it to church. His premise is that we too often fail to see the forest for the trees - when looking at churches, we look at individuals and how they behave, but we forget to look at the whole, at the overarching system. But Family Systems Theory tells us we are all interconnected, and the organism is much more than the sum of its part, for better or for worse.

Specifically, Steinke writes about the process anxiety plays in the system - the things that make us anxious, and how that anxiety plays out across the group. Because, quite often systems will behave in predictable, if somewhat unexpected ways. Or to put that another way, people respond in systems differently than you would expect them to as individuals. Sometimes the nicest, kindest, gentlest folks react in surprising ways when the system is infected with anxiety.

This book is filled with theory and research, but also with case studies and stories to flesh out the concepts. It deals with the direct conflict that often happens between people in systems, but also spends considerable time working through the triangles we create to ease our anxiety. Finally, it gives helpful ideas and tools that can be implemented to manage anxiety, whether we seek to ease it or use it to spur healthy decision-making.

HYCFW is both diagnostic and prescriptive; it gives language to the issues that happen all around us; it also gives us tools to move ahead into health and vitality. It isn't a program or study for the whole church to digest and implement, but it does give healthy language to understand the reality that is all around us, helping leaders name the issues that they face, and decide how to move ahead even in the midst of those issues.

Over the years I've read a number of books on church leadership; this one ranks up there with the most important of them. Many times I've found myself in confusing situations, wherein people were reacting in odd and unexpected ways. Steinke's work on anxiety and the different ways it pushes people has been very helpful. More importantly, it helps me understand better my own tendencies within systems - how I respond to anxiety, how my fears and doubts and natural patterns sometimes aren't the healthiest response.

As a side note . . . a friend of mine had loaned me his copy of HYCFW, and after I returned it I decided I needed my own. So it was sitting in my Amazon shopping cart, when, much to my joy and surprise, I was given a copy at last week's Navigate Conference in Minnesota. So thank you, Covenant Church, for also recognizing the importance of this book, and for passing it along to us pastors.