Thursday, January 22, 2015

Millennial Expectations and the Church

A great deal is written about Millennials  and their expectations of life.  This evokes much discussion that ranges from “the sky is falling” view to “who cares?”  I don’t believe the end is near, but I also realize that those of us in ministry need to understand the perspectives and inclinations of an emerging generation of leaders.  Some of what is written is broad generalizations about Millennials, but those of us who have contact with them on a regular basis know that many of the observations are on target.

In a recent article, Ray Williams cited a study by Deloitte titled, “Mind the Gaps: The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey.” The research collected information from more than 7,800 Millennials representing 29 countries. There were some interesting conclusions about what motivates Millennials and what they look for in leaders and at work.  Consider these items:

First, the study stated that “Millennials believe that business needs to ‘reset’ in terms of paying as much attention to people and purpose as it does to products and profit.”

Second, more than seven percent of respondents “believe businesses should have a positive impact on society first.”

Third, Millennials are concerned that “businesses are acting ethically and in accordance with their own values.”

Fourth, Millennials want to be led in a way that turns present approaches upside down.  Respondents “would like to see leaders place a higher priority on employee well-being and development rather than financial rewards.”

Fifth, as one might expect, women in the study “place a higher value on employee well-being” than the male respondents.  

How do these observations apply to the church?

I would suggest that churches that embrace a missional approach to doing church address many of these concerns.  A missional church places great value on developing individuals and their gifts.  It is less interested in programs and products and more focused on people.  Leaders in missional churches are expected to empower believers to develop and use their gifts and talents for God’s work.  The focus of the missional church is balanced between nurturing believers and releasing them to serve outside the walls of the church building.  In a missional church, finances are aligned with mission to the point that internal needs take second place to external mission.

If we accept the findings of this study as valid, a church that embraces the missio Dei (the mission of God) as its model is well positioned to reach and involve Millennials.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Journey to Affirming Women in Ministry

When I posted a blog on “Calling a Woman as Pastor" last week,  I was responding out of concern about the inconsistency of progressive churches and their search committees in affirming women in ministry but failing to call them as senior pastors (head of staff) when the opportunity arises.  The response to that blog has been overwhelming.   According to my blog platform, the post has been viewed over 800 times in one week.  This is 100 views over my top ranked post prior to that ("The Importance of Dialogue") which has been up for 4 1/2 years!

Why did this happen? First, evidently this is a topic that people in which people are interested.  Second, friends shared this blog in their networks.  Third, this is a topic about which I am passionate. 

The role of women in ministry has not always been a front burner topic for me.  I was never hostile to women in leadership roles. For most of my life, I was just indifferent.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Indifference can be as immoral as opposition. 

As I reflect back, I am more aware of my growing understanding of the importance of women being freed to minister as religious leaders.  As a young person, I had some positive female role models.  Our choir director when I was a teen-ager was a woman (although she was not allowed to lead the congregational music).  Many of my Sunday school teachers were committed, caring women.

In my early days in ministry, I worked with many l gifted women.  Jeannette Rolater was my “secretary” while I was campus minister at MTSU, but she ministered to the students in many ways that I could not.  June Scoggins was on staff with me at Mississippi State University and taught me much through her commitment and service.  Nell Magee at National Student Ministries was both friend and mentor, providing me with innumerable opportunities to “spread my wings.”  Of course, none of these women were ordained to the ministry.

My awareness heightened during my time on staff at Carson-Newman College.  I worked with many women students who were natural leaders, but I found out pretty quickly that some of the male students were trying to talk them out of accepting leadership roles!  I found ways to counteract some of that prejudice but was not always successful.  Fortunately, several of these young women went on to seminary and are now in ministry.

This was the period when I started reading feminist authors such as Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott as well as Baptist leader Sarah Frances Anders.  They gave me an understanding of how often biblical interpretation is influenced by one’s gender and culture and provided me with a new perspective.

Perhaps the final step in my becoming an advocate for women in ministry was hearing the stories of women like Molly Marshall, Lisa Wimberly Allen, and Nancy Sehested who found that the system that nurtured them as young women closed the doors to service when they attempted to exercise their God-given gifts.  These personal accounts had a significant impact on me, and I frequently ask women ministers to share their stories with seminary students in my classes.

The time for silence and indifference is over.  My prayer is that we can honor those women who have been leaders in the past—many who have impacted my life-- by opening more doors for service for others in the future.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Embracing Diversity

Sitting in a hospital waiting room recently, I was struck by the diversity of the people there.  Our community, like so many across the country, is an interesting mix of people of varied ethnic backgrounds.  This is the new reality where there will be no clear majority population in the United States.  We will be a nation of minorities!  Along with this ethnic diversity comes an interesting mix of culture, religion, and non-religion.

This mosaic of cultures challenges churches and religious institutions to look at ministry in new ways.  We are no longer “Protestant, Catholic, Jew”—the neat categories Will Herberg used in the fifties to describe the American religious landscape. At that time, “interfaith marriage” was often between members of Protestant denominations (Baptist and Methodist, for example) rather than Christian and Muslim or Buddhist and Christian.

How will we address this challenge?

First, many seminaries are already embracing this opportunity.  The minister of the 21st century must be equipped to relate to, work alongside, and dialogue with leaders from a number of religious and ethnic groups.  This should be a necessary part of ministry formation.  Seminaries often offer or require cross-cultural experiences so that students move out of their comfort zones and learn about other cultures.  Within the classroom setting, seminaries may enlist instructors who are not Christians to teach classes, offering their unique perspective to the subject matter.

Second, on the local level, clergy leaders are developing interfaith groups where they can find ways not only to understand each other but to interpret other faiths to their own congregants.  This may result in interfaith forums and dialogue groups open to the general public and shared worship experiences.

Third, the second response of local dialogue will certainly result in more cooperative endeavors where faith leaders call their congregants to work together to address community issues such as hunger, homelessness, and justice.  No matter what one’s faith may be, we are all concerned about our brothers and sisters in need.  This commitment is part of all faith traditions.

As Christian leaders engage in these activities, they are not being asked to compromise their beliefs or values, but to find to new ways to find common ground and embrace shared values.  This is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Calling a Woman as Pastor

From time to time, I receive a call from a member of a pastor search committee that is considering a woman as their senior pastor (which is a term that I don’t find anywhere in scripture, but I understand the concept).  I am always flattered that the candidate has chosen to use me as a reference, so I take the opportunity very seriously.  I must admit, however, that I come out of some of those conversations a bit frustrated.

The interviewer usually has a set series of questions, and I try to respond appropriately while pushing the boundaries a bit.  By doing so, I am often able to engage the interviewer more informally and address some concerns specifically related to women in a pastoral role.  As a result, I am no longer surprised when the caller will say something to the effect, “But there are some on our committee who feel that she does not have enough experience.”  

On one hand, if the concern is that the candidate does not have any experience as a senior pastor, they are right.  Someone has to give a person an opportunity to serve as a senior pastor in order for one to get experience as a senior pastor!  On the other hand, there are a number of women who have extensive experience in ministry and as ministry leaders even though they have never been the senior pastor of a church.  They are more than ready to assume a senior leadership role.

For example, a friend was being considered by a committee as their potential pastor. Someone on the committee raised the question of experience. This particular person had been in various ministry roles for twenty years!  She had worked with lay leaders and committees, planned and administered a budget, supervised staff, and led in worship on many occasions.  How many male pastors bring that kind of experience to a church?

Frequently, the question of experience has to do with time spent preaching in the pulpit. Again, this comes back to opportunity. God bless the male senior pastors who encourage their female associates to preach on a regular basis and provide the occasions for them to do so.  Women cannot find their voice as preachers unless they are given the opportunity preach on a regular basis.

Most progressive Baptist churches continue to encourage young women to respond to God’s call to ministry, but then they fail to call them as pastors when they are trained and ready.  In so doing, we are wasting the spiritual gifts and experience of many gifted women and hindering the work of the Kingdom of God.

My word of challenge to any pastor search committee is one I learned in the military:  “No guts, no glory.”  If your committee wants to be remembered as the group that led your church into a new era of ministry, you have to be willing to take a chance and do something different.  As Baptists, we have lost too many gifted women to other denominations.  Let’s bless our daughters for leadership in the same way that we have our sons.  In so doing, we bless ourselves.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Do You have Enemies?

The writers of the Psalms are very transparent about their feelings.  In the 150 chapters of the book, one can find hymns of praise, celebration, wisdom, and anger.  Those expressing personal anger are usually called psalms of lamentation.  They are very candid—beseeching God to regard and deal with the problems of the psalmist and/or the people. They sometimes sound like they are accusing God for their problems but they usually come back to acknowledging God’s care.

Most often the writer strikes a balance as in Psalm 9:13-14, NRSV:

“Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
 you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
 so that I may recount all your praises,
 and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
rejoice in your deliverance.”

In this psalm, the writer also uses the term “enemies” to refer to those who cause the writer suffering.  Too often, we think that this approach of dividing humankind into two categories—evil and good—is a manifestation of a judgmental, “fire and brimstone,” Old Testament manifestation of God.  Jesus was not afraid to recognize, however, that some people would be our enemies or that we would regard them as such.

Jesus acknowledged that we will have “enemies” when he said in Matthew 5:43-48:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (NRSV)

We always have the possibility that someone will oppose us for some reason.  It may be a moral issue, a petty disagreement, or a misunderstanding, but we do not live in a harmonious world but a fallen world.  Walls go up very quickly.

The difference in the approach of the psalmist and that of Christ is one of attitude. The psalmist is seeking vindication or deliverance from one’s enemies.  On the other hand, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for one’s enemies.  What divides us may be so deep that only the Spirit of God can bring reconciliation or clarity; therefore, Jesus calls for prayer for those who disagree with us or attack us.  In so doing, we might even change our own attitude.

I would suggest another practice when we are burdened by enemies.  We can be thankful for those who stand with us and support us.  They may not always see our point or agree with our position, but they love us and are willing to accept us as we are!  We can be thankful for those who are friends and not concentrate so much on our enemies.