The news has made much ado about the “phenomenon” of “clergy burnout” recently. Sparked by this article in the New York Times on August 1, the commentary has come hard and fast. Proposed reasons for this burnout have been numerous and wide-ranging: churches are too demanding ; pastors don’t spend enough time on their own spiritual health; the financial realities of seminary debt and shrinking pastoral salaries just aren’t sustainable.

I don’t disagree with any of those proposals – yes, churches demand a huge workload from their ministers; yes, pastors are often woefully overscheduled and spiritually undernourished; and yes (“YES!” – my bank account echoes in capital letters), seminary is expensive and salaries in ministry are low.  But I think all this commentary is entering into a problem much larger and more complex than the NYTimes makes it out to be.

Clergy burnout is actually a symptom of a disease of the church at large. Think about it – if this were happening in any other institution, we wouldn’t be proposing such small solutions. We wouldn’t tell overworked bank presidents that their stock holders were simply asking too much of them. We wouldn’t tell the newly elected city council member following a dozen recently burnt out officials before her that what she really needs to do is to pay attention to her own philosophical and political integrity. And while we might think about adjusting the price of graduate school to be more in line with tenured professor’s salaries, we wouldn’t cite that as the sole (or, at least, ultimate) reason a university was unable to keep a full faculty. Something else is going on.

A friend helpfully pointed out that the commentary on clergy burnout is slowly turning toward a capitalist critique – that we treat pastors as a commodity following the rule of supply and demand, and expect them to act as such. I think he’s right. We’re burning out our leaders because we’ve forgotten what it is we’re about, and therefore what it is we need them to be about.

Pastors aren’t commodities; they are people. They are sisters and brothers who walk with us toward faith. We too often want them to do all the work of faith FOR us, instead of ALONGSIDE us. Jordan wrote last week about the theology of substitutionary atonement; but I think we’re in more danger from our practices of substitutionary discipleship. If we want healthy pastors, we need healthy churches. If we want healthy churches, we need healthy relationships. And if we want healthy relationships, we need healthy understandings of what it is to be a part of the body of Christ – each of us taking up our share of the work of being about the work of the Kingdom.

What do you think?

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I think many of you are friends with Elizabeth Keller on Facebook, and as such may have noticed the posting she made last week. I asked and she said she was willing to have it posted here, as well (it is an excerpt from a paper she wrote in seminary). I think it is an interesting look at the differences between the generations in the church, and raises some pretty good questions about where the church, and culture in general, go from here. I pulled some excerpts from her posting and put it below:

As we enter into these various stages of life, our dependence, activity, leadership and stewardship are supposedly dramatically affected by the generation from which we come. Strauss and Howe describe four generations: the Idealist (boomers), the Nomad (busters), the Civic (bridgers), and the Adaptive (builders). These generations cycle over and over again through four different turnings, the First Turning is a High (when Boomers are born, 1946-1964), the Second Turning is an Awakening (when Busters are born, 1964-1984), the Third Turning is an Unraveling, (when Bridgers are born, 1984-2006), and the Fourth Turning is a Crisis (when Builders were born, 1925-1942, and – and now, the children born today, 2005-2026!).

Because Boomers are born into a High Turning, they are formed in their youth as Idealists, living into a time of overcoming crisis and moving into prosperity. Busters – like myself – are born into a Turning of Awakening – when spirituality and religion are questioned and explored and moral values are challenged; we are referred to as Nomads. This Second Turning requires us to focus on our inner-worlds and typically becomes a time when “social unrest has broken out.” During this time the Boomer generation was rising into adulthood – and began breaking boundaries, starting revolutions, and rebelling status quo.

The Third Turning then arrived between 1984-2006, when the Bridgers were born – a time of Unraveling. Our culture again shifted from the inner-world focus to outer-world focus. During this time we tested new approaches and new applications, so as to suggest that “previous norms and social expectations come apart, but their replacements are still being tested and constructed.” The Bridger Generation is thus referred to as the Civics. Because the spiritual awakening time before them served rather intense, in this Turning comes the desire for a “little fun.” […]

[…]Born in 1975, “they” call me a Gen X’er or a Buster, since we “busted” the booming birth-rate drastically. Strauss and Howe describes my Nomad and/or Buster Generation as “a recessive Reactive Generation who grows up as under-protected and criticized youth during a spiritual awakening, then matures into a risk-taking, alienated rising adult, mellowing into a pragmatic midlife leader during a secular crisis, and thus, maintaining respect as a reclusive elder.” Can’t wait!

Living through my youth and now living into my rising adult years, I will explore historical waves and events that further influence the Buster generation. We are described as apathetic and cynical – even slackers. Raised in families with increasingly high divorce rates and mothers who entered the workplace, we are known as the “latch-key” kids, who develop deeply committed friendships, rather than intimate family relations, at least more so than other generations. As another result, we are described as independent, resilient, and adaptable, thus, not needing someone telling us what to do (Hmm, perhaps, these details describe me a bit!). In the same breath however, we very much expect immediate and ongoing feedback. We grew up with the release of cable television and MTV (though I didn’t!). We witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, the Persian Gulf War, and Tienanmen Square.

Becoming working adults in an economic recession in the 1990s and 2000s, we know the hardships of unemployment and job insecurity. As a result, we are less loyal to an organization, than we are to our careers. In addition, we dislike authority! We reject rules. We prefer effective mentoring where clear expectations are provided, but then we are empowered to figure it out on our own. Thus, instead of working for someone, we prefer to work with someone.

Our generation also experiences delayed adulthood. We delay getting married and raising children, and we prolong our education (that is, taking longer and longer to complete our degrees) and establishing our careers. At the same time, consumerism consumes us, and we are in debt, living way beyond our means.

Because we experience our rising adulthood in a delayed and prolonged, living at the edge of survival sorta’ way, we have very little to offer financially. Carl Eeman in his book Generations of Faith, suggests that fundraisers, whether from the church or other organizations, focus stewardship for the Nomad or Buster generation in means of time and talent, and not as much treasure. In part, Eeman suggests this approach due to the life stage cycle in which we reside currently; as rising adults, we do not have the extra income or resources to give due to the above-mentioned issues of educational debt, marriages and children, and moving from job to job. However, we do value giving our time and talent. What Eeman does not say, is how this generation will respond to stewardship as Midlifers and/or Elders. He also neglects to connect issues of stewardship with the issues of our faith formation.

How then does our generation shape our faith formation? We mistrust traditional values and institutions and as a result, religion for us, is complex. Some of us are indifferent; while others of us believe in a Higher Power, but are more accepting of a plurality of religions. We struggle with disbelief, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We always wonder – will you be there for me?

However, if we do manage to convert to a spiritual pathway, a faith formation, then Carl Eeman suggests that we become passionate disciples, committed deeply to religion. Because we were forced to search solely in unearthing our faith, we then hold a stronger zeal for it. Eeman also suggests that we are much more action-oriented than word-oriented; we are the “embodiment of faith active in love.” This idea ties well with the above-mentioned suggestion from Eeman that fundraisers should focus their efforts on time and talent, since the Busters prefer putting our faith into action.

Once we convert to a spiritual pathway, how then do we connect our spirituality with the community and/or church and/or causes? Where do we give our time, talent and treasure? The Busters deeply desire authentic community. Yet, while we desperately desire deep community, we can also be smothered by it, for we seek an individual uniqueness. It is a tension in which we constantly struggle. Struggling to overcome our institutional mistrust and embracing our newly converted faith, we seek out community, but only inasmuch as we can feel valued as an individual. Again, these underlining issues connect well with the idea that fundraisers should encourage Busters to utilizes their time and talent, so that they are empowered to put their faith into action, while demonstrating their individual value, and eventually learning to embrace the church community.

In addition, the Busters find ourselves deeply loyal to causes and thus, that is where we give our money – to causes, not to people, like the Boomers. Interestingly, we minister to confront issues, not for personal satisfaction, like the Boomers. In contrast, the Builders give money to missions and minister out of duty. Lacking overall trust in people (from the brokenness we experienced as children), including authority, religion, and institutions, we are completely cause and issue-oriented, out of these, we give our loyalty, our money, and our devotion. Give us a cause – and put us into action!

I am interested to here what y’all think!

Last week I had the blessing of attending Peace Among the Peoples, an ecumenical peace conference which gathered together peacemakers from around the United States, and also a few from Canada. There was a lot of focus on preparing for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica next summer, as well as visioning for the future of peace work together as the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches comes to a close. A lot of good conversations were started.

But one that fascinates me was one that began with the first two set of presentations, and became an underlying theological conversation for the entire conference. It is one I would love to hear from this community on. The question was one of our atonement theology – and whether we can move toward a more peaceful future, and claim to be a peace church (in the case of the conference, churches) if we endorse a theology of bloody, sacrificial atonement. The debate for the week was set up by Rita Nakashima Brock and Stanley Hauerwas, two theological giants of the peace community. Rita’s argument is best summed up by this quote from a Lenten season post on the Huffington Post:

Many Christians today refuse a faith that asks us to be thankful for the torture and murder of Jesus Christ […] The earliest images of the cross — dating back to the mid fourth century — symbolize resurrection, the tree of life, paradise in this world, and the transfiguration of the world by the Spirit. These crosses are not about sacrifice or debt repayment. Christianity that is true to the life of Jesus Christ tells his death as the story of resistance to the Roman Empire, not as the story of how the Empire enacted God’s will. Rome used crucifixion against non-citizens, the poor, and slaves […] The gospels constructed an innovative strategy to resist crucifixion. They rejected the terror that crucifixion instilled and told the story another way, against the grain of historical fact and with the grain of love and resistance. They reported that Jesus had no broken bones and died quickly. His friends removed him intact the day he died and buried him properly. They found him again in the garden, along the shore, breaking bread, and telling them to carry on his ministry. They experienced him as many people and cultures experience those they love who have died, as present still in visions, dreams, and rituals. These loving details said that Rome was impotent to erase Jesus from memory, to deny his humanity, or to end his work for justice, healing, and peace.

Stanley, on the other hand, went the route of sacrificial atonement, arguing:

But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war. Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. If the Civil War teaches us anything it makes clear what happens when Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world. As a result, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

This is a sacrificial atonement theology based out of one posited by Anslem which Rita outlines in her post:

In 1098 Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury summarized the evangelical idea of salvation: he claimed the crucifixion of Jesus was willed by God to save the world. His idea, now called “substitutionary atonement theology,” claimed that humanity’s sinfulness had dishonored God and carried a magnitude of debt from sin that was impossible to pay. God had to send Jesus to substitute for us as the only sinless sacrifice qualified to atone for sin.

This has been a lot of words to pose the question to all of you: what is your theology of atonement? If the church exists as an alternative to the world of violence, to work to bring about the peace found in Christ, do we need to radically revision our traditional conception of sacrificial atonement? Or not?

Friends, at the end of March a new committee within the Church of the Brethren gathered – the Vision Committee. 8 folks, 4 representing denominational agencies and 4 nominated by Standing Committee, gathered to start considering what the 10 year vision for the Church of the Brethren was, with the goal of having it ready to go by Annual Conference 2011. I am blessed to be a member of that committee, along with Bekah Houff, another CoB young adult.

Instead of going through the usual process of having influential members of the denomination fill out another survey, and quietly craft a vision to be brought forth in 2011, we thought it would be a bit more effective to just write a vision statement – and then see what the denomination thought!  So, that is what we have done. This statement is in NO WAY final.  It is a statement to be edited, for you to have input in,  and to hopefully look almost nothing like what it does now when it comes before Annual Conference for adoption. This statement will be making the rounds of CoB folks – it has already been at Young Adult Conference, for instance, where the conversation and input was phenomenal – and will be at NYC, and Annual Conference, and, well, all over the place. As many places as we can think of and possibly be.

And, it is also here. Below is the first draft of the vision statement. Let us know what you think – what doesn’t fit? What is missing? Does this jive with who you think you are as a member of the Church of the Brethren? Try to avoid word-smithing (the time for that will come later!) – but give us the big picture. This is about your vision, after all, and we want to hear from you. Use the comments section, or shoot a longer comment to the email address vision@brethren.org. One final note – this is a pretty short statement, and that is on purpose. Resources will be developed so that this can be used and integrated into congregations, districts, ect. Ok, thanks!  And I, for one, am interested to know what you think!

Inspired, challenged and shaped by the New Testament, we have decided to follow Jesus.

We will live as courageous disciples, nurtured in dynamic and missional congregations.

We are led by the Holy Spirit, called to model God’s reconciliation to all creation with words and deeds.

For today’s young adults (and probably the generation of young adults before this one), metaphors of faith live and breathe in images of motion: journey, quest, voyage, exotic adventure. Think about it for a minute: how many Safari Adventure vacation bible schools did we attend during childhood summers? How many times have we sung the song Guide My Feet (…while I run this race)? How many youth group discussions did we participate in about how to bring the mountaintop experience of NYC or workcamp (places we traveled long and far to get to) back home?

I think we were taught – and now firmly believe – that faith flourishes only when we take it for a test drive, far away from where we learned it. There’s something to expanding our perspectives and encountering the world, I’m sure, and Lord knows I’ve certainly racked up my share of frequent flier miles working for the church. But I’m starting to question whether “journey” is the best way to think about faith and about life. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, in his latest book, The Wisdom of Stability, asks these questions from his front porch at Rutba House (an intentional Christian community in Durham, North Carolina) reflecting on the Christian monastic traditions:

“For people who think little of flying across a continent, the assumption of Benedictine spirituality is striking: if we want our very being to rise up into God’s being, nothing is more important than rooting ourselves in a place where God can happen. Yes, we’re on a journey. But not all movement is progress toward the Promised Land.”

Yes, we’re on a journey, he reminds us, but not all movement is progress. What if we stood still for a while? What if, instead of falling into the caravan of wandering Israelites, we planted ourselves with the Psalmist’s tree by streams of water and let God teach us how to bear fruit in one place? What would happen – to us individually and to us as the Church of the Brethren?

What do you think? Is faith about roots or wings? African safaris or neighborhood block parties?

Over the generations, those of us in the Brethren movement have claimed “simple living” as a core value. Of course, as with any socio-spiritual conviction we’ve found vastly different ways of living in ways we might consider simple. It used to be plain clothes and abstaining from anything that might be considered “fancy.” More recently we’ve taken to focusing on living within our means, not falling prey to the prevalent consumer culture that surrounds us, or not relying on consumer credit to buy luxuries we can’t really afford.

Another way that many folks I know have taken to living simply involves trying to opt-out of complex corporate/industrial systems that are seen as working against the common good of all humanity. Yet it seems that such efforts often lead to a lifestyle that is far from simple, at least when judged by our traditional ideas of simplicity. Read the rest of this entry »

I was recently posed this question: What does the Church of the Brethren do best? And it honestly made me stop and pause. For me, I can answer that question in a couple of ways. I often joke that people in the ecumenical world understand what being Brethren is all about than a lot of Brethren I have met – and in that light my mind immediately jumps to our peace witness. This is historically what we are known for, and what the  ecumenical world turns to us for advice on.

However, I also realized this went a lot deeper than that. And the more I thought about the question, I realized my problem with it was in the phrasing. What we do best as a church is about what we do best as a people. The question shouldn’t be, what does the Church of the Brethren do best, but what do Brethren do best? I say that for a couple of reasons, that I might get into in a future post (tomorrow :)). But my answer to the second question was no less complicated. I think Brethren are at their best when they are living as reconciled people of God – peacefully, simply, and together. I have seen this lived out in a variety of ways relatively recently. Externally, I have seen it in the gatherings of the Historic Peace Churches held throughout the world during the Decade to Overcome Violence, and the different witnesses that have spoke of living this way in their contexts. Closer to home, I saw it at Heeding God’s Call in Philadelphia last year – and the way that ministry has continued and taken on a life of its own.

I have also seen it internally – I saw it at the young adult ministry forum in Phoenix a year and a half ago – where we all clearly disagreed an awful lot, but committed to working together to live out what being a reconciled people should be. And I have seen it in how the conversations on sexuality have been set up, and the intentional commitment to seeking input from all corners of the church.

So, that is the beginning of my answer. What say you? What do Brethren do best?

Friends,

The Annual Conference Special Response Resource Committee has just posted their study resources for conversations about sexuality in the church. They close their curriculum (a series of 8 sessions of biblical study and conversation on the two Annual Conference queries from 2009) with the encouragement to “continue to seek out respectful dialogue with others throughout our denomination.” This space has become a place for conversation and respectful dialogue on many other questions facing the church, and I’m curious if we can take advantage of it to share and seek the Spirit amongst ourselves on these questions.

Talking about divisive questions online is different than talking about them in a Sunday school classroom or Wednesday night bible study. We can’t see each others’ faces or interpret one another’s body language. Still, for many of us who find this place a consistent spot for connecting and discussing, conversation yields great fruit. So, I share here the covenant proposed in the study resources:

As a person of faith, sincere in my commitment to heal and care for the body of Christ, I covenant with this group:
…to respect the dignity and intrinsic worth of each participant.
…to honor moments of tension between us as opportunities for the Spirit to teach and lead.
…to be open to the varied insights emerging from our shared study of scripture.
…to be honest about my own doubts and fears.
…to listen carefully, speak gently, and prayerfully consider perspectives that are different from my own.
…to begin from a place of trust that God will be present with us in this process.

With those commitments in mind, what do you make of the study resources? Will you use them in your congregation? Will you study them yourself? Have you done any discernment of this sort before? Where is the Spirit leading us?

Today marks the beginning of one of the most Holy weeks on our calendar.  Today, we celebrate the presence, the arrival, of the Kin-dom of God! This is the day when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and receives a royal welcome – even while riding in on a humble donkey.

And yet, so often this message gets blended this Sunday with the message of Good Friday, as churches, who know many won’t show up for a church service on Friday, want to make sure they get in the suffering that Jesus goes onto endure. And I always struggle with this reality – and believe that we really miss something if we don’t properly recognize the coming, the arrival, and the recognition of God’s kin-dom on this earth.  It is not something we are still waiting for, it has come! That can be such a vital message for the work we do.

I also understand, however, the importance of the message of Good Friday. Of naming and understanding the suffering Jesus endured because we didn’t, and don’t, recognize the message of Palm Sunday. So, my question for this morning is (especially for all my pastor friends out there) – how do we strike this balance? Has anyone found an effective way to live out this week in the life of the church – from Palm Sunday, to Maudy Thursday, to Good Friday, to Easter Sunday – while allowing each of these incredible holy days to stand on their own?

Friends, that subject line is one that I sit with quite often – wondering what our denomination will be or look like, as we continue to have major budget issues, as we no longer have a Witness/Washington Office, as we debate issues of sexuality.  And, of course, as we continue to shrink in terms of membership.  In the next, say, 20 years, what will the Church of the Brethren look like?

But, this is also particularly on my mind this week. I am preparing for a trip to Elgin, to serve as the On Earth Peace representative to the Vision Committee, which is called to, “To prepare a document that presents vision and general directions for denominational mission in the next decade.” I certainly don’t have answers to that – I hope, trust, and pray that the conversations had at the beginning of next week with other committee members will help us start visioning what it can be.  But as part of my preparation … what do you think?  What do you see the Church of the Brethren looking like in the next 10 years?  What, in your mind, should the church be going forward?

As young adults, this is our church. It is our future to begin to mold, to imagine into being, to call into being. So … what do you say?