Our congregation has committed to engage in workshops once a month that help us think about the ways to be a healthy church that is for proclaiming the love of Jesus to all the world. At workshop #1, we learned about making "I statements", about how congregations are connected in emotional systems, how we affect one another, and how anxiety is spread throughout the system.
Two Hours of Time
White Board/Chart Paper and Markers
Creating a Healthier Church by Ronald W. Richardson, Ch. 4-6
Everyone chose a marble from a container, and then we went around the circle of 12 people. Each person shared how they thought that marble represented them. We found out that everyone used different words to describe their marbles, even when they appeared the same way to the eye. Words like: maybe some will think this is ugly, but I think it’s beautiful, pretty, pitted, different, sparkly, textured, interesting, iridescent, see-through, gold, yellow, clear, opaque. This became a helpful discussion about perception, and the multiple ways one might describe the same thing.
Part one: Bible
We worked with Acts 4:32-5:11 and noticed some things about the text. We noticed that God doesn’t kill Ananias, but that he just falls dead. Maybe from grief? Maybe from shame? How does it hurt us when we can’t live in community well? Does living in community mean giving up everything we have? We didn’t have any good answers; however, it was interesting to sit with a group of congregation members and interrogate a Bible story about togetherness and separation. If nothing else, this story highlights how hard it is to live in community, and gives us motivation for learning to do it well.
As people said what they noticed about the story, their answers were: fell down and died, great fear, none had any need, alarmed, power, lied to God, [guilt/shame/shock]
Part Two: Life Forces
Part THree: Tug Of War
Four volunteers demonstrated the close/distant dynamic with jump ropes. They also included the pursuer/distancer dynamic. People tried to put others closer, while others tried to pull away. For example, see below:
A: Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in a week, how are you? When we can get together?
B: Ummm, I’m not sure. I’ve been really busy lately.
A: Let’s have dinner tonight!
B: I can’t, I have family coming over.
A: How about Monday? Or Tuesday?
B: [Drops her end of jump rope and leaves conversation.]
A: Hey, welcome to our church! I’m glad you came today. How are you? Would you like to get together for dinner soon?
B: I’m not ready for that, could we meet for coffee instead?
[They stay connected by the rope, AND respected one another’s boundaries.]
You can see the things we listed about each church. During the conversation Person (all names are withheld) shared a time in our churches' history when there was a flood in the basement. While many people went down to clean up the mess, several people sat in the sanctuary and complained about the clean up happening during worship. (For more on how we're learning to form a habit of positive speech, see this post.)
From this conversation, you can see the pink lines in the middle. We talked about how anxiety and patterns get passed down through the generations. Some newer people were able to share how they'd noticed this pattern, and were glad to know where it came from.
Part Three: Teaching
Since the video is public on You Tube, I edited down a shorter version of this original, and left a comment on the page that I had used it.
(Yes, I steal my six year old child's toys for ministry. Yes, I have his permission, too. No, I can not make as high quality of videos as this guy.)
Once we had established that our church is an emotional system, we talked about how things moved through the system.
Person A is the car.
Person B is the wheel.
When Person A comes to you with a negative statement about the congregation, or even life, if you are Person B you can make a choice. Will you:
Part Four: Practice
We went around the room having Person A of the pair saying something to Person B, send them their car, and then having Person B send a car back with a new statement.
Things We Learned from Practice
- Our congregation is capable of hard emotional work.
- We are capable of learning new things.
- Laughter and cars falling diffused tension and made things fun.
- This made it easier to do work.
- In the end, everyone picked up some of the toys and put them away. We all learned to take responsibility.
- The ways we say things matter, and affect others.
- There are multiple ways of addressing toys left on the floor:
- "Parents these days . . . ."
- "I can't believe this . . . ."
- "I'm sure they just forgot, it is hard to get out of here sometimes. They usually pick up the toys just fine . . . ."
- "That's the kids area, so it is their problem for next Sunday. Can't you just leave it for them, turn around, and not look at it?"
- "I'm so glad kids are in our church. I am a little worried about the mess over there making a bad impression on those meeting here this week. Will you help me clean up?"
- (Statements 4 and 5 led that pair to join together in cleaning up the toys.)
- We are ready to learn new ways of being.
- Pastor's Note: Intuitively, I felt something shift in the room during these guided conversations.
- Using "I statements" can make a HUGE difference. I think/feel __________ when you ___________.
- Using "I hear you staying ___________, is that right?" can make a HUGE difference. (Although we discussed how unnatural this sounds, and how it can come across as patronizing, we agreed that since we're all practicing together learning this new way of talking, we'll assume the other person is really trying to listen to us.)
Part Five: Bible RePrise/ Prayer
As we wrapped up, I made an offhand comment about how I'd know the success or failure of the worship based on if the toys were cleaned up by time I was done packing up. Person said that since we talked about all accepting responsibility for things, everyone should help. They went and picked up the toys.
White Lutherans helped pray out loud (this is foreign to most of us raised in white Lutheran churches). I started each round, and for each sentence, we went around the table (you could say "pass") and everyone could contribute to the prayer.
Dear Creator God, we thank you for your creation of Calvary and for all the work you are doing here. We also thank you for . . . . .
Dear Redeeming Jesus, we ask that you help us with . . . . .
Dear Inspiring Spirit, we ask that you give us hope that . . . . .
Thank you for hearing all these things, and also the silent prayers of our hearts. Continue to be with us and help us to be a place that showers our entire neighborhood with your love and blessings. Amen.
And all the People Said Together AMEN!
Renewal efforts are in full force at Calvary! We're having a lot of fun, and there are a lot of kids around.
One thing I discovered in a conversation with my clergy coach (who is amazing, everyone in in the renewal process needs a coach, in my opinion) is that our congregation accidentally has developed a pattern of negative speech and complaining.
This is normal, especially in a congregation that has lived with chronic anxiety about their survival for so many years. While normal, it is also essential to change.
You can listen to the sermon where I first propose this idea here. We have begun our new project.
EPHESIANS 4:29 Project:
How's it Going?
Joy! Joy! Joy! Down in our Hearts!
Is your congregation doing this? How's it going?
Sept. Newsletter aRticle
Although learning a new way of doing things and culture change is hard, I know that we can do it for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of being a place where the Good News of Jesus is communicated to all those around us and all those who walk through our doors. I also know that when we start talking about culture change some people think that they must leave. Sometimes people can feel nervous or anxious, or try to control other things about the group when culture change happens. If you are having a hard time with this, or thinking about this, or even talking about this kind of thing, please, please come and talk to me. I’m always here for you to listen to your ideas and thoughts, and worries about what will happen with Calvary in the future. I know from reading and studying other churches in renewal efforts that having open and honest conversation is important, and that so is culture change.
Many of us were taught as children that to be Christian means to “be nice”. In some churches, that has meant not challenging people who are constantly bringing negativity, speaking meanly to others, using overly harsh or intimidating words, or are looking to blame “out there” and “the secular” for what’s happening inside our churches. I can’t do anything about out there, or parents these days. All we can do together is create a culture of physical and emotional safety inside our doors, and invite people to come. This is a topic that is coming up in a lot of churches this September, so I’d like to invite us into the topic, too. Remember, sometimes the best way to communicate the love of God is to help others understand when they are not communicating that way. A community that is centered on Jesus can help us grow, forgive us when we mess up, and teach us to be in healthy relationships with one another. Boundaries are loving, and they are nice, even if they can bring more challenges in the moment, in the long term, they bring about health and wholeness, along with honesty. Will you please take a moment to read the outline I shared with council and work together with me on this culture change? Thanks! I know from both research, by Bible, and my heart, that learning healthy communication and how to have healthy conflict with boundaries around bullying are one of the best ways churches can grow. Let me know how you’re doing with this. Let’s all keep working together as the community of love that God has created us to be. Thanks for being in this ministry with me!
School is starting and lot is coming out about bullying culture. It hurts people, can sometimes lead to death and mental illness, and leave permanent trauma scars in people’s brains and bodies.
- We need to learn how to recognize bullying behavior and how to stand up to bullies.
- If kids are experiencing bullies in school, we need to be sure that we, as the adults at church, are aware of how to stand up for ourselves and how to teach them. We also need to be sure that our church is a bully free zone.
- Whenever you hear someone say something in church that might be bullying, these things might happen
- You might feel a little funny flutter in your stomach.
- You might feel your cheeks turn red.
- You might feel warmer.
- You heart rate might slighting increase.
- We are often taught to ignore these things as a system, and they hurt us. It is no ONE person’s responsibility to respond to these things, but it is everyone’s responsibility. I can promise that nearly every time you feel a little funny and don’t speak up, someone else wishes they were brave enough to speak up, too, but don’t, because they think the community approves of the behavior because no one else spoke up.
- Often, when the system has been used to letting these things slide for a long time, it can be really, really scary to learn to speak up.
- Peter was afraid on the boat today, too. (Matthew 14:22-33). Gotta be scared all together, name it for what it is, and learn to speak up all together.
- If you notice that you are feeling one of those feelings above, you might ask someone close to you to grab your hand, and then you can speak up. Here are some choices:
- “I felt funny when you said that, I don’t know if that was ok.”
- “Please do not speak to people that way.”
- I just heard you say that you think this other person is less valuable than you, is that what you meant?
- I wonder how this other person felt when you said that?
- It seems that you need some attention here, can you try saying that more nicely or what you might really mean?
- I read in the Bible that we are supposed to build each other up as the Body of Christ. I wonder if you thought your statement built someone up?
- Please also read the linked article about the kinds of things that can happen when people start to stand up to bullies. Let Pastor Jess know if you’d like a paper copy, and if you want Large Print. http://mindbodyintegrativecounseling.com/tag/bully-retaliates/
- This is an important piece of our system change at Calvary. It will hurt. It will be hard. People might leave over it because they like things the way they are. However, we also must ask how many people have left before because of feeling unsafe or like things were not quite right in the ways we interact? I’m new, I don’t know, but I think we need to be asking the question as I’ve read and learned more about bullying in schools and churches as school is starting and there’s a lot being put out about it.
- Come and talk to me if you need/want to or are struggling with this.
- It’ll be hard, messy, and we’ll likely not be very good at it for a while. Let’s work at it together as the body of Christ, hold each other accountable, and try to pay attention to the larger and often unstated things and feelings and bring them into the open.
- Thanks for being in ministry with me and for us doing this work for God all together!
I’ll be honest, since we’re trying to create a culture of honesty. Part of why we have our covenant is because I have experienced, as have many of my friends, churches who say they want to change and grow, but are unwilling to actually do it. What they mean is that they want people to come because we invited them with flyers or parties, and to be just like us. To worship like us, to think about the Bible like us, to be with us doing it our way. In this congregation, we seem to be comfortable facing the reality, as hard as it is, and as much as it might hurt us, that the old way of being church just doesn’t work. It seems that Calvary is at a point of knowing that we must do something in a radically different way than we’ve ever done it before. We will do it together, and with God as our guide. If our model for discipleship is Jesus, then we have all we need to radically change things, because that is what Jesus did, for the whole world.
It seems that we are willing to focus on the mission of proclaiming God’s love and blessings to the world through our congregation, even if it means things won’t be our way anymore. If this seems wrong to you, please let me know. I’m writing to you today to test what I think I’m hearing and understanding. You’ll have to let me know if I got it right, kind of close, or wrong.
I’m wondering if we might like to try adding a mission community to our congregation. This mission community would be supported by everyone who is already here, and everyone would have a role in supporting it. Your role might be to make food for it. It might be to carry around flyers and invite everyone you meet – at the gas station, grocery store, library. Giving them out wherever you are. It might be simply not complaining about things being different, the church being fuller and therefore messier, and the ways that forming honest and mutual relationships with new people change us. Are you willing to invite those from the mission community to share meals with you? Are you willing to get to know any children who come, and spend time with them outside of church? Even if you don’t like, understand, or get the ways the mission community does things, are you willing to financially, emotionally, and spiritually support it as the mission of Calvary? Will you come sometimes to events the mission community holds, and invite them to come to your events, too? Would you rather the church be the way you like it, understand it, and it has always been, but maybe close in a few years, or open, but different? Different congregations make different choices.
If we really believe in our Christian story of death and resurrection, then closing is a faithful choice. Because we’re able to trust that Jesus, through the church, can use the resources to bring New Life somewhere else. It is better to let things go than to hold onto them until we hurt ourselves and others. It is a radical choice to close and trust that Jesus will find a way to bring each person and the resources of the congregation New Life.
We can also decide that our faithful choice is to be radical in our proclamation of the Gospel while open. If we want to do this, as I believe we have the desire and attitude to do, here is what I don’t know: Do we have the energy? Do we have the capacity? Is each person here willing to find their role in forming and supporting the addition of a new community? Is there room for adding something new, and focusing our energy there, while staying grounded in our traditions, our Lutheran heritage, and Sunday Morning worship? With the formation of a new community attached to our congregation, Sunday morning worship would change very little. There would be a solid base from which to live out your faith and the proclamation of the Gospel. Are you ready? How will you help?
Please let me know. Like I said, I’m testing the ideas to see what works and what people think. Also, many of the things I’ve written here I’ve been saying to people at fellowship hour, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out of the conversation. Your voice matters. Your support matters. If most of the people here are willing to name one or two ways they would be willing to support a new mission community, we may have the energy to make it happen. It might be too soon for this conversation for some of us, but some of us are already having it, and every voice matters. Share your thoughts with me and let me know!
Love, Pr. Jess
Part 1 of our congregational renewal was praying every day. Part 2 is Bible study. By reading the same Bible passage each week, we can fully engage the story and discern together what God might be teaching our congregation. We handed out notepaper and people put in the offering plate, or they e-mailed me answers. Questions were published in the bulletin and read out loud.
Question for This Week: *
Mark 4:35-41, Jesus Stills a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Week 1: July 16: Which word or phrase from this story stands out to you the most?
Week 2: July 23: What part of the story are you most like, or, what part do you identify with the most? Are you most like a storm, the boat, Jesus, the other boats, the crowd left behind, the wind, the waves, the cushion, the calm? Why?
Week 3: July 20: For the part that you named last week, what are the drawbacks and gifts of being like that thing?
Week 4: August 6: What are the storms around Calvary? Where do we most need Jesus to bring us calm?
Week 5: August 13: Based on the part of the story you are most like, what gifts do you bring to share Jesus and calm the storms? Do you create or participate in the storms? How? What learning, resources, conversations might you need to be part of calming the storms?
Week 6: August 20: What gives you the most hope in this Bible story?
One of the fun things about renewal work is finding short term goals to celebrate as a congregation. Our first goal, Part One of our Discernment Process, is throwing a big party for my installation!
We're hoping to fill up our little church for just one day, and to raise $650 toward a new website and/or new lighting for the sanctuary. (The council is in conversation about which we'll prioritize this time. If we exceed the goal, we can do both!)
To see the invitation, to leave us a prayer or blessing, to RSVP, and/or to send the invitation to others, click on the invite below.
To go directly to the donation link, click on the cross below. How will the money help us reach those around us with the life-saving love of Jesus Christ? Comment on this post to share your ideas!
The best thing I learned was this, which is a new way of thinking for many.
We are stewards of our church buildings for our community [and for the Mission of God].
1. What barriers have you heard to this way of thinking?
2. How do you feel about this? Do you cringe thinking about using church this way? Why?
3. What possibilities and drawbacks do you see to this way of thinking?
Pastor Jess is all about sharing the life-saving love of Jesus with the world. How she does it is up to the Holy Spirit.
Being "Nice" Christians
Changing Church Culture
Having The Conversation
Healthy Family Systems
Working On It
This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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