Clergy Land: Un-learning bad habits to reach the un-churched

Clergy Land: Un-learning bad habits to reach the un-churched


Ministers Convo attended by 250, cut short by snow and ice

Take an honest look at what you're doing, then stop it.

That's the message of many church training programs today, in an attempt to get church people to see why the un-churched don't like or understand them.

At Ministers Convocation in Lake Junaluska, the message was reiterated and reinterpreted to Holston pastors who came for their annual continuing education. About 250 clergy attended the Feb. 2-4 event, organized by the Wesley Leadership Institute and based on Bishop Robert Schnase's book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations."

Also speaking and preaching at the three-day event -- cut short one day by predictions of snow and ice -- was the Rev. Tom Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology.

Long may have won the loudest laugh of the week, when he convicted clergy of assuming a pompous, head-held-high posture upon stepping into the pulpit.

"What is that door back there, Clergy Land?" Long said to his laughing audience. "Who is out there, the Queen of Bohemia?"

Long's point was that church leaders sometimes act and speak "as if God is not even there." He also criticized prayers that stray from their purpose.

"You can tell when we're not praying to God, but just talking to the people in stained-glass voices," he said. "We substitute ourselves into the place of the spirit, yet worship starts because God invades our world."

Pastors should "get out of the way" and let worshipers experience the mystery of God, even if mystery sometimes involves silence, he said. "We sometimes confuse words with The Word."

Long also warned pastors against worship that is "theologically and technically laden." To announce, "We will sing Hymn 15 -- 1st, 2nd, and 4th stanzas only" is akin to speaking Latin to the typical church guest.

On the other hand, he cautioned against overusing video to reach a society uneducated in church language and rituals.

"We assume that video is more powerful than it is, and there is a certain flatness to it," he said. "We begin to substitute video for the oral proclamation of the Word. Nothing is more powerful than someone who loves other people, standing up there and telling the truth."

Schnase also turned the spotlight on Church Practices Gone Bad, when he spoke of how leaders can kill the excitement of a new movement by imposing procedure and structure.

"How many people does it take to have a meaningful Bible study?" he asked. The answer is two -- yet the temptation is to answer a person's wish to start a Bible study with a to-do list of committee actions, publicity steps, budget questions, bookstore trips, participation minimums, and so on.

"Do you see what we do sometimes, to make things difficult?" said Schnase. "We've got to give people permission, give them opportunities and then not be disgruntled if only three or four show up for the Bible study, because that's OK."

Schnase also told the story of a young pastor who complained when her congregation wouldn't accept her progressive ideas. Out of frustration, she gave the "Five Practices" book to five of her church leaders.

However, when one of the five approached the pastor with an idea from the book -- to replace the back pew with rocking chairs for parents and infants --- the pastor put him off with the same "we have to check with the trustees" response that she previously found irksome.

Schnase also recalled the occasional church meeting that prompts excitement and new ideas, and the tendency for those ideas to be laid aside for the next meeting or committee approval. Several weeks later, the passion is gone and the ideas are stale.

"All this sends the message that you're really not serious about changing anything," said Schnase. "You need to get three of those new ideas started on Monday -- the ideas that are easy and don't cost money. We have to let people get access to the new ideas, then let them change the dynamics, insteading of slowing it down."