Saying No To Say Yes

Clergy friends … I’ve got a great book for you to read!

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Saying No To Say Yes: Everyday Boundaries and Pastoral Excellence
David C. Olsen and Nancy G. Devor

This book was recommended on one of the clergy groups I am in on Facebook and the title immediately intrigued me because the notion of balance and boundaries is something I have always struggled with.  I kind of liken it to the fact that I am perpetually losing ten pounds; I am perpetually trying to find balance in my life.  Over.  And over.  And over again.

I think part of me is a little bit jaded when it comes to the traditional teaching of boundaries because it always seems so black and white – don’t be friends with church members, always take your day off,  keep everything separate, etc. etc.  It’s not that I disagree with any of those ideas – but, like anything, when ideas intersect with people, well, sometimes the execution is off.  It’s human nature.  I live in the same town where I go to church.  I see my people all the time.  It’s impossible to keep these black and white boundaries.  I want to set healthy boundaries, but I’m not always sure what they look like in my context.

What I really liked about this book is the fact that it acknowledges and owns the gray area.  And rather than saying “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” it goes deeper and talks about the importance of knowing who you are and the systems that have shaped you so you know how you will react to different situations.  It also talks about the importance of knowing who your church community is and the systems that have been in place in its history so that you understand those patterns of behavior.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the book around boundaries, over-functioning, anxiety, differentiation, communication and the need for a peer group.  There are parts of it that are pretty heavy on the psychological theory that were a little over my head, but there are also a ton of simple case studies that really resonated with me.

I think this is a good read for any clergy struggling to find balance right now – any type of balance.  As the landscape of ministry continues to change, the goal is healthy clergy and healthy churches and I really do think it’s possible!

Congregations can get caught in the same kinds of false understands as clergy.  Part of our job as clergy is to model an understanding of who saves us – and for what.  It is our job to preach, teach, and live a gospel that doesn’t depend on human over-functioning but on God’s grace. (pg.107-108)

PREACH.

The Energy Bus

I was meeting with my clergy group last week and one of them mentioned that some of the leaders in her church were reading The Energy Bus and how much it had transformed her/their way of thinking.  She made it as an offhanded comment and then moved onto the next thing that she had to say and a few seconds later what she said sunk in and I said, “Wait a second … what was the name of that book again?”  It just sounded intriguing so I ordered it that night.

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The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy
by, Jon Gordon

So here’s the thing – there were parts of the book that were a little bit corny, but I LOVED it.  I say “a little bit corny” in the most loving and grateful way.  In fact, I think I am going to pass it along to everyone on staff now that I am done with it!  Gordon isn’t saying anything earth shattering – he is reinforcing basic principles that we all know, but sometimes forget to implement in our lives.

The book is a narrative, which is actually a really neat way to bundle the “rules” that he lays out.  He tells the story about a man who is struggling in his personal and professional life and ends up on a bus (the “energy bus”) with a bus driver and passengers who teach him how to turn his life around.  Because it is written as a narrative, I found myself getting caught up and invested in the characters and was totally rooting for him by the end.  The strange thing is – because I saw some of myself in the main character (the stress, the traps of negative thinking, etc.) – in the end I was kind of rooting for myself.  I wanted to implement these rules in my own life and ministry that I can have more positive energy in my life!

It is a quick and easy read – I read it in three days.  Definitely worth it if you are struggling with how to build momentum and strengthen rapport!

Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets The Postmodern World

One of the ways that I am involved with the MACUCC (the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ) is by serving on the Clergy Development Council.  Our job is basically to make sure that clergy are connected to one another and the conference, have access to resources and are able to discern and develop their skills while serving busy churches.  Our council meets bi-monthly with the other councils in the conference to see how our work overlaps.

I missed our last Joint Ministry Council Meeting (which is usually the point at which you get volunteered for something) and a few days after the meeting, a package showed up in the mail with two books in it:

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Apparently we’re having a book discussion at our next meeting. 🙂

Since Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World was on top of the pile, I read that one first (methodical, I know).  The author, John Dorhauer, is the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ.  I don’t know much about him (he was actually elected between the writing and publishing of this book) so I figured this would give me a good opportunity to get to know some of his ecclesial theories.

So I won’t lie … the first couple of chapters of this book were tough to read.  Not in the “this is confusing/dry/complicated” kind of way – in the “he’s laying it all out on the table and it’s kind of hard to hear” kind of way.  The truth is – the church is changing.  Some would say that the church is dying and they aren’t wrong.  This isn’t something that might happen in the future, this is something that is happening right now.  Membership is down.  Finances are tight.  Churches are closing or significantly cutting back on staff.  Clergy aren’t retiring as young because they simply cannot afford to.  These changes have led us to a place where there are more clergy than jobs available, especially full time jobs.

I know all of these things, but there was something about seeing them in print that just raised my anxiety.  In fact, I was out with friends a few weeks ago explaining my newly-devised backup plan to become a funeral director if the church died when one of them said, “You really need to stop reading this book!”

But do you know what the cool thing about Christianity is?  It never ends with death; it always ends with resurrection.  And the literature is no different.

Once you make it through the tough stuff, there is hope in this book.  Dorhauer talks about some of the emerging post-modern communities of faith that are popping up.  He says that it is possible for churches to survive in the midst of this changing landscape of ministry.  He offers reassurance that this story is still being written.

Dorhauer talks about Cameron Trimble’s hypothesis of Church 1.0 (pre-reformation), Church 2.0 (post-reformation) and Church 3.0 (the church that is emerging now).  He says that churches that are Church 2.0 don’t have to change – that they can exist the way that they are if they are healthy and thriving.  There is no need to change just for the sake of change.  He also says that some churches are shifting slightly … Church 2.2, 2.5, 2.8, etc.  I would argue that RCC is Church 2.3 right now.  We still have our traditional worship (ish) and structure, but we try to look at everything we do and ask the question, “Is this meaningful, relevant and accessible?” and go from there.  Sometimes this means changing or adjusting something – sometimes it doesn’t.

Overall, it’s definitely a book that I would recommend to clergy.  Just don’t be discouraged by the first couple of chapters that shine light on some of the challenges the church is facing – sit in the discomfort of how those challenges make you feel, put your faith in a God who has brought this church through challenging times in the past …

… and wait for resurrection.