Someone (I believe it was my father) once told me that the problem with raising strong, independent daughters was that you got strong, independent daughters. Now living with five strong, independent daughters I completely sympathize with this statement. (Hey dad, at least you only had one!) There are a number of days when I think it would be easier to raise weak, fearful daughters who are dependent on me for ever decision they make. In fact I KNOW it would be easier to raise children who are not allowed to be or do or think anything that I do not tell them. It would be so much easier to have them all live in such fear that they simply followed me where ever I told them to go.
When I think about the vast majority of churches, when I read over and over and over about the impending death of mainline denominations in general and the United Methodist Church in specific, I wonder if we have raised up a church that is afraid. It is so much easier to be the pastor of a church that lives in fear. I can come in and say “do this”, “don’t do that” and they will follow me. It is so much harder to help a church claim their unique identity, to help them find their voice and then to help them be strong and independent.
I suspect most of the problems in local churches come not out of lack of good leadership or the pastor not being relational enough, I suspect most of our problems come from a system where we have encouraged our churches to live in fear instead of boldly insisting that the pastor partner with them, giving them guidance and direction but essentially allowing them to be the people God has called them to be.
The truth is that we don’t want strong, independent churches. We want churches that fit into a mold, that provide numbers that steadily increase, that maintain the comfortable status quo with just enough change to make us feel like we are still relevant.
I am learning to claim my identity as a pastor; to be okay with who I am as a leader and who I am not. I am trying to apply the same strong independent leadership to the church as my daughters do to their life. I am also trying to teach my churches that it is okay to be who they are, to love with pride pie auctions and weird Jesus art and liturgy that speaks the same language they do. It is even okay for them to love what I do not or to not love what I do.
I believe that God has a place for us all and that the church should reflect the boldness of God’s choices in creating us. I celebrate in each of my daughters. They love what I frankly do not love (horses…ugh). They are excited about things that put me to sleep (the digestive system…yay!). They are passionate about things that I have to really work up pretend lukewarm excitement (ANOTHER app on constellations…my cup runneth over!) But I would not dampen the very real importance of any of these parts of their identity.
Why do we step into the doors of a church and think that it is okay to tell people that they cannot be who God has created them to be? This comes up in dramatic ways as evidenced in the current homosexual debate in our church but it happens in more subtle ways too. We use prepackaged bible study material that comes out of the Church of Resurrection or Ginghamsburg Church and don’t adapt it which makes our small 30 person churches with limited resources feel overwhelmed instead of inspired. We apply the same leadership model in a church of 75 as we do in a church of 350. We make them fill out forms that ask questions that don’t apply and don’t point out the things that they really excel in as the body of Christ.
I am struck by the fact that Jesus looked each person he healed in the eye. His solution for the demon possessed in Mark was not the same solution every time. He took time to assess the individual and the situation before he decided what would be the best way to offer healing. Maybe, just maybe we need to equip our clergy leadership as well as our lay leadership to do the same. Maybe we need to be willing to say that perhaps God has made us all vastly different and while we may not be enthusiastic about someone else’s difference we should not diminish the fact that God can and does boldly use them to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Ramblings today are inspired by my five year old daughter who sees the world with pure love and who reminded me this week how precious and important diversity is.