Reflections on the stinging tongue of Jesus...

At a recent gathering of trusted and truly beloved colleagues in ministry there came a time in our meeting when we shared our reactions to the evening's question:  how do I deal with a council (at church) that I don't trust? It was sobering to me how many of us around that circle spoke of dread and anger. To a person, we all experienced some degree of manipulation and cruelty from those lay leaders selected to partner with us in caring for the congregation. 

And I know that this is true for many colleagues and friends in both the music and educational ministries of the church, too. And while I don't think that the church is all that different from other organizations - broken, wounded, loving and confused human beings are involved in both - there is an expectation that at the very least, our bottom line in the Body of Christ should start with compassion.  Clearly it doesn't and my experience suggests that there are a few reasons for this.

But before I lay out my case, my heart was reminded of this sad truth while hearing the gospel reading for this day in Lent in morning prayer. Luke 11 - a passage about the "sign of Jonah" - speaks of Christ's exasperation in the midst of his ministry.  It reads:

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

Ok... many hours later at the close of an beautiful but too full day, I am back to complete this post.  I don't have adequate energy or insight at this moment to be eloquent about what causes this dreadful disconnect between our clergy and church professionals and our elected and mostly equally beloved lay leadership.  I do know, however, that at least these factors play into the mess:

1)  Too many clergy are ill-equipped - and afraid - to challenge, correct and then teach their lay leadership how to manage conflict in a loving and fair way.

2) Too many lay leaders think that the latest business trend in management is what should be taking place in their church.  I am all for best practices, but the church is neither a business nor a community dedicated to the bottom line. It is first and foremost the body of Christ.

3) Too many judicatories hold clergy accountable with bottom line metrics for success that rarely apply in the local church.  This both discourages clergy and increases the culture of shame when we should be advocating joy and forgiveness.

4) Too many clergy become indentured servants to their churches given seminary debt and economic insecurity over pensions.

5) Too many lay leaders who have no power or authority in their ordinary lives become autocratic and mean-spirited despots when the church affords them a forum.  Without making certain that lay leaders are time-tested and trained, this is a recipe for disaster.

Small wonder Jesus was feeling snarky and overwhelmed - been there and sometimes still do that - and at the end of today, while I am grateful for my experience and current community of leaders, I resonate with the Lord's quick and stinging tongue! My honey will be getting home from work soon and it will be time for a glass of red wine and a bowl of soup.


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