Sunday, November 9, 2014


Sacraments change relationships.
The sacrament of ordination will change Deborah’s relationship
            to the church and the other people in it.
Just so, we have expectations of our clergy.
There has been a huge change in our understanding
            of clergy in the past 50 years.

We have seen changes in business leadership models
            such as Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership
            -- changes in psychology with the rise
                        of more spiritual affirmative psychologies
                        instead of the dark, pessimistic ponderings of Freud.
We have renewed the life of intentional spiritual practices
            outside the walls of monasteries.
All these things have changed what we expect of priests.

But the biggest change about 40 years ago was
the rediscovery of baptismal ministry.
We have undertaken to restore the authority of the laity
            and the empower lay leadership in congregations.
Ordination now happens in a new context
            of actively engaged lay leaders.
Baptismal ministry is boldly written into the 1979 Prayer Book.

That change 40 years ago raised, but did not answer,
            what it now means to be a clergy.
Many, maybe most clergy, were taught a passive role
            that was called “pastoral” though what it meant
            was not pastoral at all.
It was to show up for people, knitting  our brow to look worried,
            and invite them to tell us their problems.

Some people liked that. Some may even have benefitted.
Others found it irritating.
Some thought the cleric was representing God
            as a well meaning but ineffectual spectator.
That was actually the image of God taught in seminaries
            in those days.
They liked to call God “the fellow sufferer who cares.”

But that is not a Biblical picture of God.
It is not an effective way to lead the Church.
And it is not what the New Testament prescribes
            as the job of the clergy.

So let’s start with what a pastor is.
It isn’t the old “Father knows best” autocrat.
But it isn’t the passive listener either.
A pastor is a leader -- not a ruler.
Rulers order people to do things.
Leaders persuade them.

The pastor is a particular kind of leader.
It’s a shepherd image.
It contemplates a flock on the move.
The shepherd’s first job is to keep the flock together.
That’s what pastors do.
They call the community together.
The cleric makes the church a safe place, a spiritual home.

The Prayer Book describes it as building up the family.
We invite and welcome diverse people into the unity of  Christ.
Then we help them form community.
There is a fundamental vitally important action
            that can make a community a place to get healthy
            instead of act out our pathologies.
That vital step is to establish a behavioral covenant
            that sets the norms for how we treat each other.

Behavioral covenants have healed and revitalized
            even seriously broken communities.
There’s a  model for that process from the Alban Institute.
It’s an itty bitty little book, Behavioral Covenants in Congregations
            by Gilbert Rendle.
But however you do it, the cleric helps people become a community.

The second thing the pastor does is keep the flock on the move.
The pastor is a change agent.
This is tough duty because our church flocks
            are notoriously change resistant.
Leading change is a delicate business.
A cleric must make it her business to perfect that fine art.
Deborah, I commend to your attention
church consultant Peter Steinke’s A Door Set Open
 every word written by business professor Robert Quinn,
starting with Deep Change.         .

Ordained ministry is leadership, not rulership.
But it isn’t doership either.
Just as the pastor isn’t a ruler saying, “do this because I said so;”
            the clergy should not do too much of the church’s work
                        and should do almost none of it alone.

The Prayer Book says the priest is
            “to be a faithful pastor to all whom (s)he is called to serve,
            laboring with them . . . to build up the family of God.”
When the clergy do church work, it is a way to lead and teach.
For example, clergy provide some pastoral care.
But the most important thing the clergy do
            is equipping the congregation to provide pastoral care to each other.

Whenever I hear from a cleric
            that she is run ragged providing pastoral care,
            I know that cleric has become a doer and not a leader.
She has failed to inspire and teach her people.
She is connecting the members to herself,
            but she is failing to connect them to each other,      
            failing in her vow “to build up the family of God.”

The Anglicanism professor at Yale, Christopher Beeley,
            wrote the best book on clergy leadership
            I’ve seen in recent years.
It’s called Leading God’s People: Wisdom From The Early Church For Today.
I commend it to you Deborah as a guide for your ministry.
I commend it to Trinity as you look for a new rector.

Beeley says that clergy and laity shared leadership
            in the Early Church.
He cites the New Testament and the letters of church leaders
            like St. John Chrysostom in the first centuries of our faith.
Clergy and laity both have a role.

Then Beeley makes a crucial point
that we have learned the hard way in Nevada.
Leadership is not a zero sum game.
If we diminish the leadership of clergy,
            lay leadership does not increase to take its place.
Quite the opposite.
Lay leadership goes down the tubes with it.
Effective clergy leadership inspires and forms
            strong lay leaders to become what St. Paul called
            “partners in the gospel.”

We hope for clergy who will not rule over much,
and who will not do over much.
We hope for clergy who will inspire and teach congregations
with strong, thinking, bold laity.
So Deborah, do a little, rule over less -- lead, lead, lead.

Recognize the gifts of lay people.
Inspire them and equip them for their ministries.
Build up the family of God
            because in this family we find grace

                        and are transformed.