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The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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love

The Church is a Love Story

I’m always gritting my teeth when I’m reading and hearing people talking about the Church as “an organization” or suggesting that we need to “run it like a business.”  I have a hard time seeing that model in Scripture.  We’re so fascinated by the “success” models of American business that we think we have to see them in the Church, too – everything from “the pursuit of excellence” to “best practices” and beyond.

But the model of the Church that I see time and again in Scripture is the Church as the Bride of Christ.  I’ve written on this before, and probably will do so again.  But here it is from a different source.  Bearing in mind that of course the Pope is going to understand / equate the Church with the Roman Catholic Church, he is still right on target in reminding us that there is more to the Church than spreadsheets and bottom lines.

Pope Francis: The Church is a Love Story.

 

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Retirement? Really?

I’m a member of a group of Lutheran pastors that meets regularly to discuss all kinds of ministry-related issues.  This morning as we were discussing “bullying in the church” we were on a side note along the question of when manipulation becomes bullying.  The subject of pastors’ behavior in retirement came up  (three of us are retired, three of us are active).

 

(Note to my non-Lutheran readers:  in our denomination, pastors are not “assigned” to congregations after their first assignment out of the seminary.  We have a “call” system and for the most part it is the decision of the pastor and – presumably – the Holy Spirit as to when and under what circumstances he leaves that call and that congregation.)

 

So one of the scenarios that we have observed in our system is that it is possible for a pastor of long tenure in a congregation to retire from the office of the pastor of that congregation yet not leave the geographic area.  Often the congregation grants him the title of “Pastor Emeritus” to honor his tenure and ministry among them.  But what is his role there after he retires?

 

Some pastors make it a practice to disappear from the congregation for as much as a year – worshiping elsewhere, taking no funerals or weddings, being out of communication almost entirely with the congregation for such a long time.  This is hard to contemplate perhaps, but it has the effect of saying to everyone “This era is at an end.  Everyone (congregation and retired pastor and incoming pastor) now needs to deal with it and move on well.”

 

Some other pastors stay in the area and participate in congregational life, but as a layman.  This is harder to do – to turn down requests for wedding or funerals for people you’ve served in love for years, but it has a similar effect as above.  It’s also hard because the people you’ve served and loved for years keep calling you “pastor” and coming up to you for advice or complaints.  Sometimes it’s just easier to take up membership in a nearby congregation (we have one man who has done this in my church, where he serves as a trusted and gentle Elder) where everyone knows he is a retired pastor but he has never been our pastor.

 

The problems arise when the retiring pastor tries to manipulate congregational life after his ministry ends.  Some pastors do that by staying around and listening to the complaints and concerns of people rather than setting boundaries and directing them to the interim/vacancy or succeeding pastor.  Some pastors try to manipulate the future with elaborate plans and schedules involving the date of their retirement relative to the date of the installation of the new pastor.  We even heard a story of a pastor who talked his congregation into calling a man to be his associate for a few years; then they switched roles and the older man became the associate and the newer one became the senior pastor; finally the older man retired but hung around acting like the Senior Pastor until the newer man left years later and continued that way several years into the ministry of the next man!

 

Having heard all these stories, here are several observations we made:

 

As with many retiring people who form their identity based on their job, the pastor whose identity is based on his role as pastor will often be depressed or discouraged and have a hard time letting go in retirement.  The best recommendation here is, as I have heard Dr. Terry Wardle of Ashland Thelogical Seminary say numerous times, “don’t base your identity on something that can be taken away.”

 

We’re often afraid to confront manipulative / bullying people in the church (including pastors) because (a) we’re afraid they may get angry and leave or (b) we think that we must suffer because Jesus suffered -and “the servant is not above the master.”  Yet although Jesus was not afraid of His own suffering, neither was He afraid to set boundaries against some folks so that they would not cause others to suffer (e.g., the little children parents brought for His blessing, the prostitute being criticized for pouring perfume on His feet).

 

Toward the end of Moses’ ministry God took him up to the mountaintop and handed the reins over to Joshua, then removed Moses from the picture by taking his life (He did the same to Elijah).  For both Joshua and Elisha, for the people of Israel as well, the ministries of the great predecessors had definite ending points that all had to deal with together – with neither Moses nor Elisha in sight to oversee the transition.

 

Samuel, on the other hand, was “voted out of office” when the people decided they wanted a king.  While God told him that they were acting against God and not Samuel, I guess Samuel had to live with that.  But since they had rejected his leadership he couldn’t very well pretend to keep leading them, could he?  So perhaps he lived the rest of his life as a sort of pundit / prophet, commenting but not leading.  Yet I’m pretty sure that this is not the most healthy role for a retired pastor, either, as there can be a mighty fine line between “prophet” and “grump.”

 

Finally, David had in mind to build a temple for the Lord but was told “not you, but your son will build the temple.”  David was satisfied with this, though, and spent considerable effort gathering resources and materials so that Solomon wouldn’t have to waste time doing that himself.  Perhaps it is wise to make appropriate preparations for retirement, to prepare the congregation and the people for the need to face the event and the issues; but like David to understand that though you can assemble the materials, it really is the successor to whom it falls to build them into the next ministry.

 

Jesus was There; Jesus is Here, too

Over at Public Catholic a terrific sister in Christ, Rebecca Hamilton, posted this wonderful reflection about the Christmas Eve Mass she attended:  Jesus was There.

It’s a beautiful piece, one worth reading (if you haven’t done so yet).  And here’s what I noticed about that piece, and about the comments that followed it (mine included, I must say) –

The author tries to look through the fog and haze of criticism, legalism, pickiness, and the general pettiness of “good Christian people” to see the ones who came that Christmas Eve night to find the Savior, the Healer, the Companion, the Comforter, the Burden-Bearer, the Child in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are met on Christmas Eve.  And she succeeds wonderfully as she looks around in the sanctuary of her congregation, and her eyes and heart drink in a crowd of folks that would doubtless have warmed Jesus’ heart and caused Him to cry out with compassion for them.  But in that crowd, as in the crowds around Jesus, there were also the Pharisaic types, the ones who just can’t seem to see beyond their own insecurities and need for control.

And so what happens?  As in the Gospels, so in this piece and the comments that followed we have paid more attention to the Pharisees than to the man with HIV, the prostitute, the homeless family, the dirty ones, the children, the elderly.  Certainly it’s more tempting for those of us who work mostly with words to turn those words against the Pharisees, the “liturgical cops” and the “church Nazis” and engage them in long debates.  And indeed the history of the church is replete with such debates, and those have often been necessary to sort things out for the rest of the believers.

But as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees of His day, even in King David’s day the question of whether it was “right” for his soldiers to eat the showbread from the tabernacle took the backseat to whether it was compassionate for the priests to feed the people of God in their hunger.

So in this new year 2013 perhaps a good resolution is to try to engage less often in these kinds of “who is right” discussions and instead engage in “how can I be compassionate” actions.  Will this draw the ire of modern-day Pharisees?  Doubtless.  But let us not allow them to distract us from the life of love that Jesus has called us to live.

God bless us everyone!

 

 

Formational Prayer and Jesus

As you are heading to Ashland for the Formational Prayer seminar this week, I want you to know something about you and Jesus:  everything He did, He did to forgive your sins and give you life with His Father forever.  That means that as you come to Ashland you can be assured that

  • you don’t owe God anything for any of your sins
  • Jesus has completely wiped clean any accusation at all against you, whether from Satan or from anyone else
  • anything that any person may hold against you means nothing to Jesus, who loves you with an unimaginable love
  • in His resurrection He has trampled on the gates of hell and broken them forever – there is no way you can become imprisoned there again
  • He can and does call on legions of angels to surround you with His protection while you are away from home this week
  • wherever you may be hurting or wounded, He knows those wounds intimately; and it is by His wounds that you are healed – that’s another promise of His
  • He will strengthen your faith in every aspect of your participation this week
  • He will surround you with a community of believers so that, like the 99 in the wilderness, Satan will hesitate longer to attack any one of us because of the mass of us gathered together
  • if you don’t have the opportunity to hear it tomorrow in worship, hear it from me now:  as a called and ordained servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His authority, I tell you that all your sins have been forgiven you, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
  • He has given you and me the Holy Spirit as His pledge and guarantee that all these promises are true.

I’m looking forward to seeing everything that our generous Lord Jesus will be doing for you this week!

God bless us everyone!

Formational Prayer and the Father

This Sunday coming up is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity in the church year.  It’s also the day in which a number of folks leave home and family to spend a week at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio for seminars in Formational Prayer.  If you’re one of these folks, this post is for you:

As Christians, we believe, teach and confess our God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Apostles’ Creed says “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  Martin Luther said that this means that God not only has created everything in the world, but every part of what makes you and me human beings – eyes, ears, and every part of you.  He’s given you everything you need to support your body as well as your life.  And He doesn’t just hand over these things to you, then sit back and watch.  No, He keeps giving you everything you need, “daily and richly,” for no other reason than that He loves you.

As you’re getting ready to head for seminars at Ashland this next week (or, whenever you’re getting ready to go away for a while), it’s easy to get caught up in the worries of what needs to be done before you leave, what will happen while you’re gone, and what you’ll need to do when you get back.  Maybe these exercises will help:

Do a mental survey of your body, as many parts, pieces, senses and functions as you can think of.  Thank God the Father for making these all for you and for preserving them even when you are unaware of Him.

Do a mental survey of all the “stuff” you have (food, clothing, house, home, pets, family, material possessions).  Thank God the Father for His generosity in giving you all these, and for renewing those gifts to you every day, even when you aren’t home to enjoy them.

Why does the Father do this for you, daily and richly and generously?  Because He owes it to you?  Because He feels guilty about Eden?  Because you’re worth it?  or just because He loves you with an incredible love that passes your every imagination and understanding?  Yes, that’s it!  Spend some time praising Him for that love!  And let Him take care of all these things for you while you are in Ashland next week!

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