Monday, January 19, 2009

Deepening Lay Theologal Education: Process

Other blogs are discussing the content of Lay Theological Education programs...the questions we'd like to have answers to. I want to think more about process; what kinds of programs might one fund to help people answer their questions?

I have three thoughts. Firstly, a set of Chautauqua-type programs that could travel to districts, clusters, camps and conferences. The ministers have their CENTER programs which do this; a different set of ministers offer to teach their specialty several times over a year to colleague groups. A similar program could be set up for Lay theological education, which might result in a blossoming variety of "Seminary for a day" programs all over the nation.

A second thought is to help ministers and others put together good distance education courses. iMinister has tried to explore this and found it beyond her geek-level. Universities, however, have developed platforms and taught less geeky (and more resistant) persons than herself how to offer knowledge in this new way. It just takes money.

Once there was a Seminary-on-line, experts of all sorts could offer on-line courses and study materials for anyone who wanted to partake, and for follow-up to those one-day Chautauqua programs suggested above.

Thirdly, I believe that the longing is not just for theological education but for ministerial education. That is, my guess is that people don't just want to learn theology, they want to learn ministry in order to be of service to their congregations. They don't just want lay theological education, the want lay ministry. And frankly, we need them.

Not all ministers agree with this, and there's not doubt that there are some really tricky pieces to the whole thing. But I think we ought to be thinking about this and looking the models other denominations have used.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Live-blogging NM-Mix

I'm at this conference on New Mexico new media conference. I'll soon be on a panel about building virtual communities, from which I expect to learn far more than I contribute. The keynote speaker is making the point that video games give a platform that teaches the skills of dealing with a complex world. Today's kids don't just go to theme parks, they manage them in their gaming world. This fellow is working with news organizations to quickly develop games that would teach people about the complexities of World Events. I can see it now... Mid-East Tycoon. Sim Global Warming. Very interesting...

I hope to have an opportunity to insert the idea that we need games for moral and religious education. We'll see.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Tyrrany of Excellence

You can find the excellent keynote speech from the Excellence in Ministry Summit here. It's well worth reading and very amusing, too! In it we may see ourselves as others see us...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Going Deeper

Doug Muder, at Free and Responsible has asked his fellow bloggers to give some help to the Task Force on Lay Theological Education.

That's the group looking into the gaping chasm between what most people can get at most of their UU churches by way of deepening their UU'sim, and going to theological school.

They've got a chunk of money to come to some conclusions and actually do something.

iMinister has a bunch of ideas about how that money could be used but that's not what he's asking for. He's asking for comments about what that cliff edge looks like. That's the place where people have come to understand Unitarian Universalism through sermons and a few classes, have grown in spirit through participation in worship, have served their church and want, well...more. But they are not ready or able or willing and might never be, to jump over the cliff and go to theological school. Or maybe they're unlucky as a young mom I just spoke to this week, to live in a state the size of New England which has not one theological school to its name.

iMinister can't speak to that condition personally. When she got that "deeper" urge she was a footloose and fancy free young adult she cheerfully jumped the chasm and landed in New England, and started Theological School. Worked for her, then. She totally gets it that it would be harder now, even for that same young adult, and that it would be impossible now, for the mom of a college-bound 18 year old and wife of the just-career-changed husband. iMinister was raised by Depression Babies, and unlike the rest of her generation, she has never shaken their teaching to be prudent about things like loans, bank accounts, and retirement savings.

Anyway, lots of people who want opportunities to grow in mind and heart in their faith don't want to be ministers. They just want more than their local church can provide.

Doug and the Task Force want to hear from you, dear readers. You can post comments on this Blog or you can go directly to his blog. The question, "What would help you go deeper? What do you want to learn, to do, to experience? What skills would you like to develop? What certification would you like to have?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The limits of Force

There are some fights you can't win. Even if you had all the fire power you needed (however you define fire power in your particular fight), if you used it, you'd destroy something too precious to you to make it worth it. So even though you might have every right to fight, you don't fight. Even though you really need what you might win in a fight, you don't fight. If you're angry and feel threatened, you master yourself and you don't fight.

This is a very hard lesson. But most people have to figure out how to learn it. Most nations have to figure it out, too. There are some fights in which no amount of force will get you what you want, need, or have a right to. You have to get those things in a slow, roundabout way. Sometimes the other party has to come to exactly the same conclusion.

It is usually perfectly obvious to bystanders when someone has started to destroy themselves in their quest to get what they need. It is rarely as obvious to the involved parties. And because the calculus of when, exactly the use of power becomes detrimental to the powerful is a very personal calculus, only the involved parties can actually know where the line is.

It's hard to watch.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bumbling Ministry

A colleague is planning a book on long term ministry and is interviewing me. Interviews are one thing I don't do very excellently, so I asked for questions in advance. As I look them over, it suddenly comes to me that one thing that has allowed me to stay in ministry and stay in ministry in one place is a high degree of personal tolerance for bumbling....just the opposite of all this excellence-talk that we've been doing for the past two months on this blog.

Yep. Even after 30 years in this business, I feel pretty inept at many things I do, day after day. Leadership development? All I can say is that I try to let people do what they really want to do and fill in the gaps (and patch up the problems) that come. Stewardship? It's definitely not something we do excellently here and I'm not sure how to fix it. We specialize...perhaps even excellently, in chearful frugality. Building Planning? This is my third time around and I still find it messy and confusing and I've been very little help to our committee. Governance? See "leadership development." Staff management? Don't get me started. Pastoral Care? Never my speciality. I do the best I can. It's an important part of the job. Contemporary worship? Small Group Worship? As we start trying to do these thing I realize how very narrow is my realm of excellence. I can do really good worship in a sanctuary, with a hymnal, a pianist, a choir. The rest is bumbling. Now that four of our six weekly services are in the these non-traditional categories, I feel downright inadequate to the need.

Anti-Racism and Multi-Culturalism, the current darlings of ministerial competency? Well....I know a bit of the theory. I'm told we have a pretty multi-cultural congregation by UU standards, but it's mostly because we've been successful in drawing young adults who come by this trait more easily than their elders. How did we do that? I don't have a clue. I noticed it was happening, smiled at them, and dispatched our intern to see how we could help them organize themselves. Now they fill a section of the sanctuary, week after week. Teaching? I did a lot of it as a solo minister and assumed that people just didn't much want courses, these days. Now I have a colleague whose classes draw throngs. I can only assume that that's something he does much better than I ever did. I'm told I'm an excellent preacher, but I know, week after week, how flawed my contributions are. There's only so much time.

Now lest you think that this recital shows that my mental health is in jeopardy in this post-holiday season, please be assured that I have come to regard all of these non-excellencies as just the way things are and I am not deeply bothered by them. Obviously there's a gestalt of ministry around here that is working about as excellently as anyone could expect. We grew by 10% last year, both in membership and in contributions, yet another year on a growth spurt that has outpaced the growth of our city and has now topped 50% in the past 8 years. And in this hard time, the congregation almost doubled it's Fall contributions to the UU Service Committee and to our local Food Bank over last year, which I consider a sign of spiritual maturity that warms my heart. We've just had to add another service (The contemporary one I feel inadequate about) because we're bursting at the seams (and because I couldn't figure out how to initiate a building process 5 years ago when we should of...).

Which brings us back to tolerance for bumbling.

I think, especially in this generalist business of ministry, you have to be downright chearful about all the things you don't do very well, lest you sink under the weight of depression. It's probably important to have a speciality you cherish as your area of excellence. But in the long run, it might be even more important to give oneself a wide latitude for bumbling and trust in the Great Powers of Healing and Renewal to fill in the gaps and patch up the problems.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The impossibility of Excellence in Ministry these Days

Check out this link for a very interesting article from Internetmonk on the contemporary pastorate. (Thanks Chutney, for pointing it out!)

The author is an Evangelical Christian, but the first half of the article raises interesting general points about how ministry has changed in the past 50 years. The second half is much more specific to the Evangelical community but does make some interesting points about what he calls the pragmatic philosophy of Youth Ministry. Although it takes some major religious translation, I think that UU's were not immune from the downsides of this philosophy, which, crudely stated is, "if it brings kids and keeps kids it must be good." His objection is that it's not Biblical, our UU objection might be that it doesn't help kids on their spiritual journey and when they outgrow it, they depart from us, never to return. Of course, in our case, only between 10 and 30% of our kids even partake in our youth programing.

His claim is that Pragmatic Youth Programing has led to Pragmatic Adult Programing, and he's again' it all. An interesting point that's probably off the topic of ministry.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Freedom of the Pulpit

There's been ministerial interest in Freedom of the Pulpit again, so I've brought this post forward from July of 06, and added a bit to it.

iMinister defines Freedom of the Pulpit as freedom from advance censorship. This important doctrine exists to protect a minister from a demand that s/he "never speak of that issue" or "don't tell anyone what you believe about that." It exists because we cherish the integrity of the minister and because it is sometimes good for a congregation to hear things they don't want to hear.

Freedom of the pulpit doesn't belong to the pulpit, and you don't get it by virture of standing behind the thing. It is a trust bestowed on persons who are in covenant with the congregation to speak the truth in love, to honor the congregation's mission, to be fair, balanced, and wise etc. All called ministers, many hired ministers, and, if the congregational covenant is strong enough, members of the congregation can be said to be a part of this covenant.

Guest ministers are often granted Freedom of the pulpit by courtesy (If we didn't trust them, we wouldn't have invited them.) In my congregation, everybody else is asked to speak on a particular topic and, if there's any question about what they are going to say or how they plan to say it, we ask for a manuscript.

We do this more for reasons of quality and length control, than to censor their ideas, but neither I nor our worship committee would hesitate to disinvite a speaker who was not being truthful, loving, or productive about what they had to say. In practice, we mostly help people get their point across more effectively, rather than censor content, but I have done it once. (The speaker was a mile over the "no partisan politics in a non-profit organization" line. It made it easier that I could invoke the IRS on the matter and I managed to salvage the relationship.) We came to this policy after some difficult experiences.

A congregation will entrust its desire to hear many sides of the truth, spoken in many loving, careful ways, to its minister, worship committee or both. Those so entrusted must have and use some discression, because "Freedom of the Pulpit" is a principle meant to serve the needs of the people, not the egos of the mouthy.

"Freedom of the Pulpit", even for a called minister, does not mean that "you can't be fired for what you say, "

A minister who gets obsessed with one issue and preaches about it out of proportion to its importance to the members, who uses the pulpit to scold those who disagree, who preaches in a way that causes damage to the church's reputation in the community, and who does not speak responsibly about the pros and cons of the issues s/he talks about will probably be judged out of bounds of the covenant and can very appropriately be asked to make changes in their preaching subject, manner, and priorities. If the covenant stayed broken for long, the congregation would probably dismiss the minister by it's democratic procedures.