April 17, 2016
Rev. Todd Weir
I had an important moment of clarity last Monday about how I understand myself as pastor and shepherd. Sarah and I were both attending the Massachusetts Western area “Day of Covenant,” which is annual gathering of pastors and Conference staff for mutual care and discussion about what we see as the big issues of the church. Every year they give us a rock and have a moment to share with the group a burden we would all like to lay down, so we can share our ministry burdens. I feel pretty good, we are doing great, no big conflicts, no thorny issues of toxic personalities, no leaks in the roof. So I don’t want to be that pastor, who is just so together, pulling a “humble brag,” with something like, “I lay down the burden of having to chose between all the wonderful things in my life.” Please!
So here is what I thought as I waited my turn (and this is a big deal!) I said, “I lay down the burden of my death and resurrection as a pastor, because the future of the church calls me to be something beyond what I am now. I’ve been in ministry for 27 years, and for 26 of those years, I have been the new young pastor. I’ve always wondered when I would no longer be the new young pastor, I’ve longed for it, and I think now is the tipping point-52 is as good an age as any to declare this. My whole career I have served a church that is much older than me, and I feel the gravitational shift. The church I was called to serve four years ago is rapidly disappearing, the church that is, in the now, is in transition, and the church of the future will most likely be very different different. Now what happens when the gravity below you shifts?
Here’s one example of the shift I sense. When I started most people sat in the center rows of pews, with just a few stragglers on the sides. Now most Sundays, the side pews on the left and on the right are each equal to the center. Many new people have adopted the sides, and the center has shrunk and there are gaping holes where people who sat for decades are now gone.
At clergy meetings pastors actually discussed managing where people sit, because as churches low attendance looks bad. One pastor roped off the back pews and moved everyone forward in a tighter cluster, and some churches are just removing pews altogether and just have chairs. I didn’t realize making seating arrangements would be such a big pastoral role. Just ask Jonathan Edwards. First Church needed new meeting house because the old one was too small. What a huge problem! The biggest givers and prominent families sat in the front pews. People bought their pews to build the church. Edwards hated that idea, which created inequality in the church, in sermons he ranted and scolded, and the church leadership just met in secret and went around him. Seating arrangements matter.
Edwards was at the tail end of being Good Shepherd 1.0, for Church 1.0. Church 1.0, as an institution, upheld the social order, regulating family life, morals, national and ethnic pride. Pastors carried the rod and staff and it was a social obligation to be in church. Everyone knew where they were supposed to sit, and down front was best.
Church 2.0 changed that. In the mid 19th century, and heart-felt emotional religion and individualism became a driving energy. The music shifted from Isaac Watts hymns like “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and “Immortal and Invisible God Only Wise” to Fanny Crosby and Charles Wesley, to “O How I love Jesus” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” And you can sit wherever you want! People moved to the back of the church, creating a dead zone up front, so pastors have had to leave the pulpit to see peoples faces. This era culminated at the turn of the 21st century with the Mega Church, a market driven, consumer driven church that has coffee shops and no crosses.
Good Shepherd 2.0 clergy, on the positive side, learned about psychology and counseling, conflict mediation, how to manage committees, and marketing to attract people. Here’s the downside. Many churches and pastor became individualistic and inward rather than communities with a mission to reach and change the world. A popular seminary professor, Eugene Peterson, said many clergy are “quivering masses of availability” running to find more green pastures, preparing more tables and overflowing cups, basically trying to please everyone, because people might leave, and end up exhausted and burned out, so clergy are now leaving the ministry at staggering rates. Bill Ames told me there were always 10 percent who don’t like anything.
Church 1.0 and Church 2.0 have been slowly losing energy, like a tire with a slow leak. The church of social order and obligation has been deflating for a couple of centuries, the consumerist church of individualism is getting boring, and can’t compete with sporting events and movie theatres. We have pumped more air into the church tires, but never really changed them to solve that leak. So what will Church 3.0 will look like? Here are three brief questions– 1) What will church be about? – the why, 2) Where will you sit? – the belonging question 3) What will the pastor do? -the shepherd/leadership question.
- First Churches is working diligently on the “why” question. We are already becoming Church 3.0, which is not a place to be a member, but a community of spiritual awakening, where we listen for God’s spirit, and we are sent out on a mission to make God’s love and justice real. Church 3.0 will equally be movement and institution, spiritual and activist. Asking the right questions, and being authentic, will be more important that doctrinal conformity.
- So where are you going to sit in church 3.0? Like Church 2.0 you can still sit wherever you want. We are going to keep some of the best of church 2.0, But in Church 3.0 you are going to have more than one seat. You will have a pew here, a seat around the table with food in Lyman Hall, a seat in each others homes for spiritual life groups or a seat on the ground while you weed in the garden. Spiritual transformation does not necessarily happen in straight lines, with rows facing the front. Real community and awakening happens in a small circle where we face each other. In Church 3.0 I think you may spend less than half your church time sitting in a pew, and more time sitting in a circle. Sundays still matter a great deal, where we come together and celebrate and sing, but even Sundays we may have more emphasis upward and sideways than just forwards.
- So what will the pastors do? Increasingly, our role is equipping you to grow in faith and share in ministry, finding and doing your why, and our purpose, and less time being theological experts, institutional managers and the decision makers. 3.0 pastors may be more like spiritual coaches. Coaching may have some negative connotations for you, with lots of shouting and ordering people around. “You, sing louder…and you pass out bulletins…” Coaching is a new profession that helps people with everything from time management, life goals, starting a new business or career, almost anything.
What a coach does is listen very deeply, creating an open, non-judgmental environment where people can do their very best thinking. Coaches help people create new awareness about their situations, brainstorm possibilities, watch for limiting thoughts and behaviors, and then help people organize life to do the things that are truly important and transformative. How many of you would like that kind of coach?
Sarah and I both have coaches that help us with our ministries. We often coach each other. Common Ground and our Vision Meetings operate on a coaching-type of model that is participatory and equipping. Here is a concrete example. We have had 17 new members and lots of visitors and we need do better at helping people find their way into our community. In the past, the pastor/experts would talk with a consultant, or go to seminar, make a plan, run by the relevant committee, and implement it. Instead, we invited recent new members to tell about their experience, what works and what we could do better. By May we will implement at least 3 of these ideas. That is the difference between a coaching culture and an expert driven culture.
I’ve been training with other clergy since September, spending 4 hours every Tuesday night on a webinar, my 100 hours of training are done May 3, and by the end of 2016, I plan to be a certified Associate Level Coach. I think this could be transformative, but it is a leap of faith for me. It is a death and resurrection change as I let go of so many things I learned in seminary, and give up control. But I also think it lets the Spirit in to our work together. Here is what I’m asking of you. First, be patient with me as I evolve from Good Shepherd 2.0 to 3.0, and be patient with each other as we figure out what Church 3.0 looks like in the 21st century. Second, I need practice. I’m going to set up times where you can sign up for life coaching. It can be on anything, time management, being a better leader, job stress, saying no, developing healthy life habits, come as a couple to talk about improving family life, envision retirement or start a new business. These issues have spiritual dimensions. You don’t have to wait till you have cancer or a great existential crisis to call a pastor.
So tell me what’s on your mind at the end of this. Share with me about where you see the greatest opportunities and the place where you feel stretched and challenged.