Friday, July 31, 2009

Coffee Conversations

A couple mornings a week I get together for coffee with friends. We rarely plan an agenda of topics, and yet the 60-90 minutes always seems to fly by without pause. Often these conversations wind around to church, since in one way or another this set of friends are connected by faith. Today we ended up discussing some hard questions, and what people's reasonable reactions to those hard questions should be.

I have experienced an unfortunate response from folks in church leadership to tough questions: silence. I don't mean they beat around the bush and never get to actually answering the question. I mean no response whatsoever. Silence. Now, there are a few situation for which this is reasonable. "When did you stop beating your wife?" comes to mind. We zeroed in one this: "To what extent should a pastor bow to the wishes of big donors?"

OK, admit it: all of you have considered this before. Of course, the initial answer is something along the lines of "it depends." Ouch. Well, at least it is not silence. As is often the case, the first steps towards reconciling this issue is a discussion. I have a simple, and some would say naive, answer: remove the connection between the church budget and the pastor's salary. Or better yet, have pastors that do not draw a salary at all. I could go on all day about this one. When you start with the premise of a fully paid pastoral staff, and the goal being to foster Christian community in and out of the church walls, the pastoral salary assumption can quickly get you to places that will never continue on to Christian community. This is especially true when moving outside the walls, but still true even when we stay home.

You see, when we pay money, we have this expectation of getting something in return. I recognize this is not Christian giving, but a very earthly approach. Yet what can you say when folks withhold tithes (sometimes publicly) on the grounds that they disagree with some particular pastoral decision or leadership policy? If there was no connection between the tithing and the pastor, folks would not expect there to to have that particular type of control.

I guess it all comes down to this: is there any pastor who has the guts to say "no thanks" to the money that comes with strings attached? Even at the risk of their own livelihood? Not that I blame a pastor for this, yet this is their chosen field (God appointed field, most are quick to remind me) but they will often not have the faith to stick to their beliefs when pressed between Jesus and a car payment.

Next week's question for parishioners: what if you had to choose between Jesus and your local church?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Revisiting Cussing...

OK, I have some more thoughts on cussing in church. Since the last post on the topic, I've had a few conversations with Tracy and others on this. The clarification I need to make is about being offensive. That was not the right word. Every preacher knows you can't talk on any subject for 30 minutes and not offend someone. So offending people by cussing is not really the issue.

What is the issue? Glad you asked. It comes down to what image you project, and what image is received. I can't say I never utter four letter words, but it is rare, and always in an appropriate context and setting. When I talk to someone who cannot get through a single sentence without an f-bomb, all I can think of is that this person is either really lazy or just plain ignorant. Too lazy to think of a reasonable English word, so they just toss in the universal noun, adjective, adverb, whatever, thinking they communicated. Or ignorant, because they don't seem to understand the message that our language choices send about ourselves.

In either case, is this really the message that we want people to receive? Not me. Now I know, some of you will say that you don't feel this way about folks who cuss all the time, or even for those who cuss some of the time. OK, but I refuse to believe that my opinion here is unique. I'd rather err on the side of civility and let them learn who I am by all the words I say rather than the chosen few of the four-letter variety.

Here's another take on the matter.

That's it for now. This is probably not dead yet.


Another outdoor festival

Last week was the second outdoor music festival, this time in North Syracuse. Given the long drive, and the fact that I was in charge of stage wiring, I spent the whole day there. A very good day indeed. The reports are just trickling in now, but the message was delivered, lives were touched, and hearts were changed.

Perhaps the best part of the day was when Light Blue, the final band, finished their sound check. First, some background. Light Blue warned us that whenever they play out it rains. At the last outdoor jam, they actually lost some of their equipment to water damage. No last week, called for rain, but we were spared for the whole day. Big puffy clouds, blue sky, and lots of sun. Until Light Blue started their first song. Even with white clouds and blue sky, the rain came down for just a minute or two. It was just a little joke between God and the band, but it was very funny.