August 2014

The Small Church—Lost in Time

Pass the Shoofly Pie

blogpie7I was reading an article about the Pennsylvania Dutch as a tourist attraction. The article began by pointing out that many of the things in the Lancaster County (only an hour from Philadelphia) tourist traps have nothing to do with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Windmills for example. The word Dutch is anglicized from Deutsch—the German/Swiss language. Nothing to do with the Holland Dutch and windmills!


The point was made that Pennsylvania Dutch includes more than Amish. The term includes all the German and Swiss settlers who came to southern and eastern sections of Pennsylvania in the late 1600s and 1700s. Many a Pennsylvania Lutheran claims Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. My grandfather was not Amish, but he spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. My other grandfather was just as Pennsylvania Dutch bur spoke Telegu as a second language.


The article points out that many of the foods served in Pennsylvania Dutch tourist restaurants are not authentic. This drew dozens of comments from readers who had their own ideas about authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.


I should know the answer! I am Pennsylvania Dutch. But I never heard of a few of the foods mentioned by the commenters, and I could add a few to the list.


This got me thinking—What constitutes authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking?


Are we Pennsylvania Dutch locked in time? Must we cook and eat the same foods that filled the 18th century farmers’ bellies? Are we misrepresenting our heritage to substitute oregano for savory? Must we choose shoofly pie over chocolate mousse to prove our loyalty? Could we marry (gasp) someone from one of the many other ethnic groups that also came to Penn’s colony—and are still coming to Penn’s colony?


No, we Pennsylvania Dutch know that a large part of our heritage is in how we think. We question. We do not adopt fads easily. We know what and why we believe as we do. We are loyal to our beliefs.


Need a label? Stubborn Dutchmen. I heard the phrase many times growing up.


People have a tendency to label groups of people. We are disappointed when our perceptions fail.


We do this with our churches, too—especially small churches. They tend to be viewed as smaller, less effective versions of the ideal bigger church. They will be stereotyped.


  • Small churches are supposed to be family churches.
  • Small churches are supposed to have a patriarchal leader or matriarchal leader that clergy should either work with or watch out for.
  • Small churches are supposed to be homogenous.
  • Small churches are supposed to be comforting to the aging with no younger people to consider.

If you belong to a small church, you can make your own list!


Small churches are entities unto themselves. There is a lot going on. Today they have power large churches do not have. They are unencumbered in many ways. They can change without layers of bureaucracy—unless we require a bureaucracy to meet some ineffective standard.


Small churches will be steadily preached to about change. But no one really expects change. Few will believe it if we do change! The fact is many regional church leaders have no plans to serve small churches. They will work around us and blame us when things don’t go well. They will harp about what must be done to meet their approval—their standards.


In my experience, small churches change first. Small churches innovate and adapt. Small churches have multiple leaders (almost everyone!) — not just one patriarch or matriarch. Those matriarchal and patriarchal leaders, if they exist, are likely to be rearing church leaders the same way they reared their children—to be productive, skilled, and self-sufficient. But outside assessors don’t see this in visits every few years.


Within the Church, we will be forever stuck with expectations of the past. We are the dying remnant of the glorious 1960s. Just let us die.


Is there an “authentic” small church?


Can any good come from Nazareth?


Pass the shoofly pie!


Or the mandazi! (African donuts—favorites at Redeemer pot lucks.)


All Church Eyes on Ferguson

Jesus and the little children

Maybe We Should Be Looking

Closer to Home

There are many pictures of Jesus with little children. They dot Sunday School rooms across the country.


Seated at Jesus’ feet are children of every color.


Ahh! The Church as it was meant to be.


Easier depicted than done!


Diversity was/is a major stated goal of our denomination—Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Has been for years.


The question is “how?”!


One tactic for promoting diversity is to seek pastoral candidates that are diverse. Place pastors of color in homogenous neighborhoods of a different color. That’ll turn things around. Does it work?


Diversity is tough partly because we are unsure of why we want it.

  • Is it to fulfill the image we grew up with—that image of Jesus sitting in a garden with beautiful children of every race?
  • Is it because we want to address the social issues of race in our society?
  • Is it because the mainline church is running out of white Christians to fund it?
  • Is it for a feather in leaders’ caps?


Here is a post by a prominent black Baptist pastor, the Rev. Frederick D. Robinson. His thoughts are prompted by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. (A young, unarmed, black man was shot and killed by a white police officer. This sparked looting and rioting.)


The details about the shooting are still being sorted out. The racially charged anger that surely has been brewing for a very long time cannot wait.


Rev. Robinson discusses what diversity means to the Church.


He makes an interesting comment toward the end.

And a good place for that resistance to start is with a deconstruction of our theology, a theology that has been shaped more by the economic interests of America than by Christ.

I suspect there is something more going on and I need only replace one word to make the point.

And a good place for that resistance to start is with a deconstruction of our theology, a theology that has been shaped more by the economic interests of the CHURCH than by Christ.

Redeemer Lutheran Church in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia can speak to the Church’s emphasis on diversity. We grew from being a solidly white congregation in 1970 to a very diverse congregation by 2008. There was even great diversity among our newer black members. Over the decades we experienced great criticism for being primarily white—even when our neighborhood was primarily white. We experienced the church’s tactic of placing a black pastor—not of our choice—in the pulpit to promote diversity. This was not successful. But Redeemer was successful with subsequent pastors—both black and white—who were chosen by our community. But our regional body—still stinging from their failures—was unable to see progress when it wasn’t achieved “their way.”


“Their way” was largely motivated by “their needs.” Their need to place pastors. Their need to control property and assets. Their need to save face when their ideas bombed.


These needs were so overpowering that the Church thought nothing of locking out all the members of the church—black and white, man and woman, adult and child—to gain control of assets and disempower lay leaders who were leading successfully.


A painting of Redeemer’s membership would have looked like the old Sunday School pictures. But the economic needs of the Church created its own reality.


I suspect this is happening all over the Church today. Ferguson took to the streets. Redeemer took to the courts. Neither work very well.


We could try the gospel. Hmmm!


I stated earlier in the post that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is our denomination. The truth—they kicked us out, locked our doors, grabbed our endowment funds and sold our property. They had diversity. They preferred money.


We never voted to leave the ELCA, but we have been excluded for six years from any participation. Do we have to take to the streets for clergy to notice?



Clergy in Ferguson Make A Difference

But Where Were They for the Last Fifty Years? 


This post talks about the influence of clergy in calming the violence in Ferguson, Missouri.


Related Post Earns A 2x2 Right On!  See Post by Carl W. Kenney at ReligionNews.com

Related Post Earns A 2×2 Right On! See Post by Carl W. Kenney at ReligionNews.com

2×2 is a city church. We live in a neighborhood (East Falls, Philadelphia) that has transformed over the last few decades just as countless American urban neighborhoods have. City neighborhoods used to transform over the course of a generation or a decade. Today, they can change dramatically in just a few years.

The Church doesn’t deal well with change. When the decision is “fight” or “flight,” flight wins.

What happened in Ferguson was brewing—probably for decades. Where were church leaders then?

Here is our experience. And we are not alone.

In 1968, when cities across American were burning with racial tension, our neighborhood was solidly white. Not rich white. Working class white. The people of East Falls came to this neighborhood to work in small businesses and factories. They created a nice neighborhood that richer people liked. Some wealthy and influential people built homes on the outskirts of the neighborhood.

Things were changing even then. The violence of the 60s accelerated change as the children of factory workers decided for the first time to put down roots nearby but outside the city. Mom and Dad stayed behind to age gracefully. At the same time, government leaders looked at the urban landscape to find places for low income government housing projects. Working class neighborhoods were the answer—not neighboring richer neighborhoods. Through the 1980s, East Falls had a government housing project on the northern, eastern and southern borders.

This created racial tension as an entirely new population appeared suddenly. The people and churches who stayed in East Falls dealt with the change. Like most change, it doesn’t happen by decree. It happens by living and working together, making occasional mistakes and trying again when the going gets rough.

Where were Church leaders during this time of transition? They visited once every 10 years or so and gave advice. “Close. Your demographics have changed. There is no future for a church here. Leave us your property and endowment funds. We will sell it for you.”

This was stated to us in just these terms and summed up by our bishop in 2000. “In ten years, you will die a natural death.”

By 2007, Redeemer had grown five-fold—with little professional help.

But SEPA/ELCA had a plan and they were going to stick to it.

Their only strategy was to stick a pastor in place. Full time as long as there was money. Then part time. Then Sunday supply pastors. Any pastor with a pulse would do since expectations were low.

There was no vision then. There is less now.

The view of the urban church from the green, manicured lawns of the suburbs remains static. Their view is a continuation of the “white flight.” They are coming back into the neighborhoods they have deserted and neglected. They are gleaning the physical and monetary assets they left behind. They were absent in the years when they could have made a difference. Helping churches serve in changing neighborhoods would have been a witness to the mission the Church stands for in theory—diversity, inclusiveness, charity, justice, etc. All these things are hard to do from 20 miles away!

Redeemer dealt with it. Again, change didn’t happen overnight, but it DID happen and without violence!<

What remains with our relationship with the greater church is dealing with Church Gossip. Gossip from the lips of clergy is powerful, hard to refute. Motives of the story tellers are rarely questioned. Much of it comes from people who have spent no time in East Falls in nearly two decades! Their view may have been self-serving back then!

When we hear the gossip about our congregation it is surreal—stuck in the 1970s. Our favorite distortion is the one we hear the most often. Redeemer is racist. They overlook the fact that church leaders locked out 60 black members of Redeemer to shut down the church which in their view had only 13 members—our white membership in 1999. They refused to see our changed membership except in a frantic attempt to encourage new people to join congregations more “like them”—assuming that newer residents of East Falls need help in choosing a congregation for their families.

Redeemer actually “transformed” steadily as the neighborhood changed. The first black members joined in the early 80s and when the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided that they had better uses for our property and assets than we, Redeemer was a predominantly black congregation. Five black pastor served Redeemer — two called and three long-term supply. But Redeemer’s progress in diversity and inclusion didn’t count. Some leader 20 years ago decided the fate of Redeemer. They were waiting for the natural death they predicted—until their own fiscal crisis prompted the use of force.

Locked out of our own sanctuary, Redeemer members visited 80 congregations in SEPA/ELCA—the ones that voted blindly to go along with SEPA’s prejudices. Most of the congregations we visited were 95%+ one color or another. Only about four of the 80 were like Redeemer in diversity. And yet SEPA finds it so easy to label Redeemer racist.

After six years of seeking justice within the Church and in the courts, we understand the anger of the people of Ferguson!

What if the Church had never followed this foolish path? What if they had placed leadership in these neighborhoods that could — well, lead.

That’s what I’m thinking about as I read about the good work of clergy in the angry streets of Ferguson. Some of them are local. Some of them are coming in from outside. But where were church visionaries for the last fifty years when the anger, injustice and distrust was building—when gangs were attracting youth with false promises of power and acceptance? Where were they?

Mowing the lawns in the suburbs?

The passion of the people of Ferguson, misplaced in violent destruction, could have been harnessed years ago, if the streets of the cities were viewed by the Church as dynamic and not as spiritual wastelands—if they had professional leadership that didn’t seek first the economic security of the status quo.

Look Again at All Those Small Churches

The Church tends to look to larger congregations as the flagship churches of the future. They have the denominational clout. To pastor a large church is the dream “call” of many a professional leader. Large churches have land and facilities to die for! They have professional staffs to take care of things that volunteers take care of in the small churches.


But large churches are few, only about 5% of all congregations.


If you study the statistics, you’ll see that many large congregations are struggling with giving and attendance, too. I noticed during our Ambassador visits, that one of the congregations listed as having about 400 in average attendance in the denominational yearbook had only about 30 worshiping on the spring morning we attended. Why? we wondered.


In a small church with an average attendance of 30, everyone knows that attendance is down because Mrs. Miller is ill and the Jones Family is on vacation!


Decline is a bit harder to notice when a congregation of 1000 loses half its members as compared to a church of 100 losing 20 members. But the decline is there, too.


Still, we tend to try to mimic the very few large churches. We may be missing the foundational work that is happening in small church communities and their importance as anchors of the faith in the shifting tides of demographic change.


Tomorrow’s church leaders are just as likely to come from the small neighborhood churches as they are from the corporate or megachurches—perhaps more likely. They will have had “on the job” training!


A lot of this has to do with why people choose the church they join in the first place and why they stick with it when the rewards are generally personal. No glory—at least not on earth.


RightOnGraphicThat’s why I enjoyed the post linked below.

Four Unexpected Benefits of a Small Church

You see empty pews. I see community.

Read this post from Christianity Today.

How Full Communion
with the Episcopal Church
Hurts Lutheran Congregations


The Blind Leading the Blind?

I read with interest recently a long and scholarly review of the decline in The Episcopal Church. There is a second part.


The article by the Rev. George Clifford presents a common church problem from a management perspective.

  • What are the best uses of church resources for the overall mission of the Church?
  • How can we solve the problems of small churches while satisfying professional leaders and their personal career goals?


The article discusses

  • The cost of maintaining church property
  • The career desires of clergy
  • The payment and lifestyle expectations of clergy
  • The efficiency of church size

Missing from the discussion is sense of what church life means to the faithful and how this alone is an asset to the Church.


Church leaders persist in their belief that all congregations with a qualified pastor and following the prescribed liturgies are equal.


The attitude:

Go ahead. Close small churches. Members can easily find another church to attend.

Except they won’t. Statistically, most members of congregations forced into closure become unchurched.


Lay people look for more in a church than a place to sit on Sunday morning.


Church managers, out of compassion if nothing more, should consider the effect on existing Christians.


Such a discussion would likely include:

  • A sense of betrayal
  • A feeling of being used and discarded
  • Profound disrespect
  • A sense of abandonment
  • Challenges of faith
  • A sense of being useful to the kingdom only for what we contribute, while having little control over the use of our contributions.


The advice of clergy to “join another church of the same denomination” is to clergy a problem solved.


To laity it is a problem (or problems) created.


Congregations are communities. There are reasons why people affiliate with smaller churches (and most churches are small). These come under the umbrella of “belonging.” Small churches are places where individuals can have an influence, where they can be known for their skills and not just as an offering or attendance statistic. They can feel acceptance among few when they would feel lost among many.


The Promise of Practical Solutions

The second part of the essay promises practical solutions for reversing decline. It actually assumes that facilitating the demise of small congregations is the solution. It references a blog post about downsizing—but applies the concepts of downsizing to parishicide. The ideas about downsizing might actually apply without the death sentence attached!


The article correctly identifies that the major challenge of small churches:

  • to stay connected to their changing neighborhoods or
  • to rebuild the connections that were probably lost during extended periods of time following leadership that failed to address the disconnect while it was happening.

In other words congregations have to make up for lost time. They must find leadership that may not exist among clergy who are hellbent on helping churches die, supposedly to protect resources. The Church as a whole is losing resources that might needed to reach “the world.” This includes people as well as property!

The author then correctly identifies pastors as important agents of change as compared to regional staffs. It goes no further. It totally overlooks laity.

This is where TEC’s relationship with ELCA Lutherans could benefit them. Theoretically, Lutherans value lay leadership. Theoretically.


How the Problems of the Episcopal Church Are Influencing Lutheran Tradition

Lutherans now consider themselves in full communion with The Episcopal Church—despite a full page of disclaimers at the end of the document that outlines the union. There are three problems with the implementation of full communion.

  • Lutherans come to full communion with a congregational polity. Congregations own their property. The Episcopal tradition follows the Catholic tradition of diocesan ownership.
  • Full communion means next to nothing to laity, most of whom are inclined to get along with neighborhood churches without permission of church leaders.
  • Those disclaimers are never read.


What does Full Communion with The Episcopal Church Mean to Most Lutherans?

Very little to lay people. A great deal to clergy.


Clergy gain a deeper pool of churches from which to catch the next call.


But the leadership style is very different from Lutheran tradition—and that waning tradition is actually a Lutheran strength. The Lutheran tradition empowers laity in mission. It also is foundational to fostering a clergy that is empowered to speak up within the Church when they see wrong-doing.


This article avoids any discussion of laity as being involved in any way but submitting to prescribe failure.


The Battlefield Is Property Ownership

The differences in leadership styles is incompatible with the Lutheran view of property. Remember, Lutheran congregations own their properties. Episcopal congregations generally do not. Property equals power.


The divergent polity regarding property ownership could resolve in one of two ways.

  1. Episcopal polity could change to give laity more control over their property and mission. Not likely. Those with power don’t give up power willingly.
  2. Lutheran polity could change to give the regional expression more control over property. This is against the founding documents of the ELCA but it is a huge temptation.


In fact, this is part of the emerging mission strategies of some Lutheran regional leaders, who are taking advantage of “full communion” status. Unsuspecting lay people think they are still Lutheran—that they still own and manage their congregations. They may have been duped into giving away their traditional rights.


Here are a few of the strategies being employed by some ELCA synods. 2×2’s parent church, Redeemer Lutheran Church in East Falls, Philadelphia experienced each of these in the last 15 years. 


  • The regional body will innocently suggest to a small church that they accept mission status. If congregational leaders are not familiar with Lutheran polity, they will be tempted to accept financial help, not realizing that they have given the regional body control of their property—forever—even after outside help is no longer needed.
  • The regional body with equal innocence, will suggest that the existing church close so that it can reopen. They will tell the congregation that this will allow a fresh start in their neighborhood. They won’t mention that it also puts the property under regional control and removes any vote or say of the existing congregants. The existing members with their knowledge of Lutheran polity will magically evaporate in the regional body’s eyes. They will find new people to work with—people who don’t know Lutheran polity.
  • The regional body will tweak their constitutions, which limits the ability of synod leaders to intrude into congregational governance. Tweak by tweak, the constitutions will be rewritten in violation of the founding agreements between the synod and congregations. They will claim rights to property under circumstances that they alone define and assess. Without an outspoken clergy and laity, this strategy will succeed. There is no mechanism in the ELCA to check the power of regional leaders. Secular courts refuse to get involved in church issues.
  • One final step. If congregational leaders do not immediately comply with the demands of the regional body or bishop, they will be removed from their positions—not by the congregations that elected them but by the regional bishop who doesn’t have that authority—but who is not likely to be challenged. This may be accompanied by removing the congregation’s voice and vote within the Synod Assembly—wholly unconstitutional, but likely to work. The only prescribed avenue for redress of any grievance is controlled by the bishop.


These strategies seem to have started with the acceptance of “full communion” with The Episcopal Church. Lutheran leaders naturally crave the powers enjoyed by their new peers.


Faced with similar challenges, Lutheran leaders are tempted to practice the same autonomy of the Episcopal tradition—a tradition foreign to the most of the people they serve and who support them.


Let them read this article. They will notice that the Episcopal tradition doesn’t necessarily have answers despite their greater power. Lutherans are ceding their strength—an informed and active laity/clergy—for the trappings of power that no longer work.


The blind leading the blind?

Do Dollars Talk in Church Leadership?

shutterstock_153411764Money Is Not the Only Currency!

There was a day when employers held employees and entire communities in a stranglehold. The owners of the company that employed most of the people in a village had huge advantages—and they used them. They paid the workers. They also owned the stores where the workers shopped. They were certain of getting almost every penny they paid to their workers back. It must have felt good while it lasted.


Then came unions.


That type of thinking grew out of European feudal society. Indeed, it is difficult to break away from the Middle Ages, especially in the Church. That’s when the church structure we practice today was solidified. With a few little blips—like the Reformation—it has resisted challenge. Even the Protestant denominations are tempted to revert!


The day for change has come. There is no stopping it. But it is not the change church leaders look for. They want to find ways to keep the Church structure as they know it going. They have been running a “company store” for centuries.


People are no longer limited by geography to live and work. When they are unhappy, their griping has a larger audience—the world.


Church members are discovering other spiritual outlets and communities. They are a new source of energy and spirit that can augment the Christian message if not dismissed automatically as a challenge to the faith.


The reaction of the vertically structured, “feudal” Church is to do what they’ve always done—throw around some weight. “If you don’t do what we think you should do, we will take away that grant we promised. If you still insist on doing things differently, we will limit the choice of pastors available to serve you. If that doesn’t work, we’ll show up on your doorstep with a locksmith.”


OK, the last one is a bit extreme, but it happened to 2×2’s sponsoring church, Redeemer Lutheran in East Falls, Philadelphia!


The first two happen often.


These strategies are growing weaker and weaker. They live where fear allows them to live—and so they will be around in some form for a while.


But people of faith, who have a strong spiritual foundation will challenge them. Today, we all have access to the world.


That’s going to make the Vertical Church nervous. They will take for granted that the purse strings they are pulling tight will be magically refilled by compliant parishioners. It will surprise them that people can give directly to any number of causes that resonate, without having their gifts filtered through denominational hierarchy. They will assume that church members will cower in fear and that they will not have the time, talent and resources to stick to their sense of mission without the traditional controls of leadership and money.


All Over A Washer and Dryer? No, It Was About Power

Here’s a story from Cincinnati, Ohio, that proves it. An arch diocese withdrew a grant to buy a washer and dryer for an approved outreach project in an attempt to rein in a woman overstepping leadership boundaries in a different arena. In the old days, this would have been quietly effective. People would have been kept in their place. In the old days the Church controlled its media. However, a number of news outlets and Facebook publicized the arch diocese’s actions. Support dollars began pouring in.


What will happen next?


Church leaders might examine the value of the project they were content to scuttle in relationship to their desire to silence an independent leader. But by taking an extreme measure at the outset, they are far more likely to dig in their heels—even when it defies reason.


More posturing and muscle-flexingis likely to result.


That was our experience here in East Falls, Philadelphia.


It takes a while to understand that money is not the only currency. Love works magic!


As for what is next with Lydia’s House—the organization that the Church sought to whip into shape: they shared the donations with similar organizations. Many benefited when the denied contribution would have helped just one. That’s the power of the Horizontal Church.

Suggested Reading from A 2×2 Subscriber

One of 2×2’s loyal readers sent a link about Social Media in the Church. 

2×2 has a good collection of posts on this topic that have been buried by more recent posts on different subjects. This summer we have slowed down our postings while we work on a major re-launch this fall. This isn’t easy! We miss creating content!

One reason is to find ways to make these older (but still valuable) posts more accessible and useful to small church leaders. In the end, the wait will be worth it!

Social Media is a powerful evangelism tool. This article reviews the varied uses by a few congregations.

Enjoy and employ!

Feel free to add your Social Media ideas by commenting here. They could be helpful to others!

(Thanks, Sal!)


Wise Pastors Respect Lay Talent

shutterstock_191300273Respect in the Church—a Two-way Street

Today’s post is more personal than usual. In this case, I think my unique life experiences have something to say to the whole Church.


I grew up in an intricate web of pastors’ families—my father, numerous uncles, all of their wives, and grandparents going back to the 17th and 18th century boats that brought us here work in ministry. There are a few denominations represented at our family reunions these days. Mixed marriages.


I am content to be a layperson. The forefather of my denomination, Martin Luther, saw laity and clergy as being of equal importance. Perhaps we need a reminder.


As a family member of all these pastors, I grew up listening to clergy. Ministerium meetings were held at our breakfast table, so my infuences went beyond family. In my professional life, I worked with lots of pastors from three major denominations. I am comfortable in both worlds.


My father always served small churches in rural areas and small towns. His first two parishes were in very rural, Bible-belt Pennsylvania. My parents went there as newlyweds. I lived there to the age of four and am blessed with an unusually good memory for my early childhood.


His parishioners were seasoned Christians accustomed to being responsible for their congregations and working with young pastors starting out and older pastors nearing retirement—the lot of most small churches. They were farmers and thought nothing of rising early for 4 am Bible Society meetings. Some work is best done before the cows are let out.


My parents admired them. “Think how smart you have to be to farm,” my Dad would say. “You have to know a lot of science—nutrition, botany, insects. husbandry, genetics, medicine, weather, chemistry, and technology. You have to know about construction, business, marketing and finance. Farmers rely on community so they must have social skills, too.”


My folks never talked down to any of them. And they grew churches wherever they went.


I was privy to many discussions between professionals. I was often shocked at how some pastors referred to their church members. They often saw them as obstacles to their authority. Their skills were subservient to their own. They had their own lingo. An “alligator” was a lay person lurking in some imaginary water waiting to pull the pastor into the water to devour him limb by limb. Just a tad paranoid! Not surprisingly, they were always fretting about how hard their work was.


More recently, I felt the sting of clergy judgment first hand. Six years of litigation stemmed from a simple disagreement which could have been resolved over coffee had respect in the Church been mutual. But respect was demanded and not returned.


Clergy are used to expressing this dark side in private. They see no harm. They are talking to colleagues, looking for sympathy and support. In this unquestioning environment, and with no way to verify claims, attitudes spread and bad things result.


Imagine what happens when these attitudes of superiority advance with pastors as they climb the hierarchical ladder.


For example, here’s a link from a pastor who has some good things to say. He’s not from my denomination so I don’t really know much about him. I was immediately struck by two things. He started his post by mocking a parishioner. This clouded my vision a bit for the second thing I noticed. He was giving good advice.


I had to overcome the “put down” in order to hear him. I think that is often the problem in the Church that relies so heavily on maintaining clergy and lay division of labor.


Why was it important to depict the lay person as uneducated? Was he trying to connect somehow?


Once a pastor views a parishioner as a double negative-spouting oaf, he just might fail to hear what the parishioner is saying—just as I had to work to read the rest of his post. That lay person’s counsel might have been spot on. He might even have been in agreement. He may have simply needed to be drawn out a bit. In a perfect world, he would have spoken more eloquently—if less effectively as a sound byte.


“Pastor, I have a concern. I suspect other members, whom I know very well, have the same concern. We hear what you are saying, but we worry that you are asking us to do things for which we have no experience or training. When you are gone we might not have the leadership to continue. We’ll end up feeling like failures. It’s a little scary, Pastor. I’m afraid your ideas will run off good members. We will be worse off than we are now. Let’s talk about this some more. Maybe we can find a better way—something we can start by taking smaller steps to build our confidence.”


But here’s a bigger problem for clergy and laity in the modern world.


 NEWS FLASH! Discussions online can be read by anyone. You might be writing for pastors, but lay people might be out there googling the same key words. If there were no reasons to watch how you talk about church members before the internet, there is now.


Lay people are smart. They are diverse in their experience and knowledge. They are looking for places to serve where their efforts will be respected. Sadly, this causes many to leave the Church.


Clergy still hold tremendous power over congregations. Clergy gossip weakens that power. What clergy see as a cute, inside joke can do damage.


Granted, clergy have special skills. They worked hard to get them. They deserve respect. Like everyone, they feel unappreciated at times. But these skills mean little without the skills lay people bring as gifts to the altar.


We deserve respect, too.


My folks lived in awe of the farmers that empowered them in the early days of their ministry.


I wonder if that’s why Christ turned to the fishing communities of Galilee. They had to be smart people, too. They had to know weather and sailing, shipbuilding, net sewing, sea life, marketing and . . . . .

Jesus and the fishermen