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."
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:
Mainline denominations are not dead. They may be dying. At the very least the way they once were, the way we have known them for the last 100 years, is dead. So why do we keep looking to them for answers to the challenges we now face? Why do we keep expecting that they will somehow roar back and save us?
Clergy waste so much time lamenting the state of their denominations. It’s exhausting and fruitless. And I'm beginning to think that it says more about clergy than about the denomination.
Could the problem be that we are looking for something that they simply can no longer provide? Could it be that find it easier to lament and blame the denomination than to create our own solutions?
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. I presented material from my forthcoming book with Elizabeth Drescher, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible, much of which was inspired by my home congregation.
I shared how a strategic goal Redeemer established in 2008 of "improving communications" led to our push into the new world of social media and the subsequent redesigns of our church website. I relayed many of the real life experiences and learnings of our congregation from these last four years.
It was gratifying to see how the things we learned in what I described at the conference as our "wonderfully average" congregation could help other pastors and ministry leaders in using social media, engaging digital culture, and thinking about how we are church today and how we will be church in the future.