This fall I was invited to speak as part of a series called "Conversations that Matter" for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. I gave the talk live at the first conversation in Nazareth, PA and then we recorded it for subsequent gatherings. The invitation was to speak about the future direction of the church in a way that provoked conversation and reflection.
This 22-minute video called "Make Your Neighborhood Your Cathedral" explores something I am deeply passionate about and I think is vital to the future of the Church—getting outside our church buildings and being present in public local and digital gathering spaces, whether it is the local cafe or pub, Facebook or Twitter. (Email readers will need to click here to view the video.)
Nadia Bolz-Weber makes me want to be a better pastor. She also reminds me that I'm bound to fuck it up.
In her new book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia chronicles her upbringing in a fundamentalist church, her path to self-destruction as a young adult, her improbable call to ministry, and her journey with her people at House for All Sinners and Saints.
It is beautifully written, funny, and heartbreaking. It will make you laugh out loud and, if you're like me, choke up and wipe away the tears pooling up in the corner of your eyes. Often all on the same page.
Surely, Pastrix is one of the first great spiritual memoirs of post-American-Christendom.
Pastrix speaks profoundly to those who are alienated from the church. I want to buy a copy for all my friends, and I've got plenty, who have given up on church long ago.
For my part, I can't help but read Pastrix from my own perspective as a ministry practitioner and Lutheran pastor.
What I have learned from Nadia, in our conversations and again in Pastrix, is that being a better pastor is not about accumulating skill sets and eventually, finally, getting it right. Its about being open enough to God (who she refers to as "Jesus the Boyfriend," who gets all up in our shit) and God's people to have your heart broken.
When I was younger, I pilgrimaged to medieval cathedrals. Now I pilgrimage to new mission churches.
Last week, I made pilgrimage to Humble Walk Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, a mission start congregation of the ELCA.
Humble Walk is true inspiration to me. Their pastor Jodi Houge is just amazing and gave one of my favorite interviews in Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible. As she told us there,
"We recognized that most people don't come looking for a church, in our demographic. And so, we through from the beginning, 'We know this. The church is sinking.' The facts are on the table for the mainline denominations. So, we're not going to these big glossy things that try to draw people to our cool, fancy, hip church. We're going to be where people already are and try to be the church where they are."
Recently, Rachel Held Evans published a post at the CNN Belief Blog entitled "Why Millenials are Leaving the Church" and gives as clear and complete summary of those reasons that you'll find. It's a must read for ministry leaders.
One of the reasons she identifies is consumerism in the church. That is, when the church treats itself like a product and potential members (and current members, for that matter) as consumers.
In light of declining attendance and cultural irrelevance, she says, churches think the answer is to repackage and rebrand themselves so young adults (and others) will want to come. She writes this:
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.
This critique of consumerism doesn't get much play in conversations around the church. Why? Probably because we are so ingrained in consumer culture (work, politics, economy) that we can't even tell that we are part of the system. Like fish in water, it is our whole environment. We don't even notice it.
At the same time I read Held Evan's post, I picked up a copy of Pete Rollins' latest book, The Idolatry of God: Breaking our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction. Pete takes this consumerism head on, outlining how we sell the church, and sell God, and how it hurts the people we intend to help.
Last night I attended broken liturgy with Pete Rollins.
Wow. It was amazing.
broken liturgy is, as the creative team behind it (John Hardt, Christopher Cocca, and Lin Preiss) will tell you, hard to describe.
It deconstructs liturgy and church (the tag line is "church undone") and at the same time is incredibly generative. It is avantgard and ancient. The MacBook sits on the piano. Hand cut figures are hand-placed on the the digital projection screen. It does not promise answers. It offers an experience, which is open to whatever you bring to it. It doesn't explain. It doesn't tie things up neatly at the end. The lights just come on. The ending is liminal: no permisson, no instruction, no dismissal. (Unlike my Lutheran tribe, which can't leave a room unless someone says, "Go in peace. Serve the Lord.") It is music, poetry, art, and story, beautifully and carefully combined. And it is broken. Over pints afterward, the team and Pete recounted some of the hiccups in the program and also noted that that's kind of the point. We are broken people—and this is a liturgy by and for broken people.
The church finds itself on the verge of uncharted territory, a geography that is unsettling and unfamiliar.
No one knows how the future is going to unfold. Our answers are partial, at best.
Sometimes it seems like we standing at edge of a cliff, but, for me, it feels more like the opening of a vast new territory that calls us to exploration and adventure - and I am excited for it.
I recently took heart in this from reading Stephen Ambrose's excellent book, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, which tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803-1806 to find a route to the Pacific coast.
It was an epic journey, one with great lessons for the church as it finds itself thrust into a new age of exploration.
Here are six pieces of inspiration and wisdom I took from Lewis and Clark for church leadership now: