Thursday, April 30, 2009

Radical Hospitality

This is a summary / review of chapter one of "5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations".  Christian hospitality is something many of us take for granted these days.  Certainly few of us think of it in terms of a fundamental orientation toward welcoming and including others.  By calling it "radical", Schnase is suggesting that it be rooted in the life of faithfulness and radiate toward others.  A radical shift means that it is outside of the norm.  It means that a new base line is established that orients all activities.  Most congregations would say that they are friendly, but do they exercise their welcome in such a way that it eventually puts them at risk?  What I mean by this is that most practices of evangelism and hospitality are inwardly focused.  They answer they question, "How can we make them join us?" or "How can we add to our ranks?"

They idea of radical hospitality acknowledges the reality that any change in membership naturally creates a difference in identity and function for the group.  The interests, needs, and spiritual gifts of those who join will change the priorities of the community and God's movement through them.  This is a basic concept of group dynamics that challenge us to realize that being a "friendly" congregation may not be a full proclamation of the Gospel.

Schnase talks about a discernment process used by leaders from a variety of areas in the life of the congregation.  They met for several sessions over a period of time and discussed their own experiences of invitation and inclusion.  They talked about the barriers they faced.  The talked about the basic reasons for hospitality, beyond adding to numbers or giving units (incidentally, a friend recently reminded me oh so kindly how often Jesus refereed to people as giving units).  They walked the halls and considered their facility from the perspective of a visitor or new member.  All of this is not for the sake of developing a programatic response, but rather to build a culture that is as concerned about those who are outside of their fellowship as it is concerned with those who are presently part of it.  What if the concept of "welcoming one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7) became a fundamental orientation for the development of ministry?

Would we put rocking chairs in the back rows of our sanctuaries for young mothers or chairs with arms for older members?  Would we be willing to split apart a successful small group for the intention of adding to its membership through creating new groups?  Would we be willing to hold Sunday School in an offsite location and bring church to a demographic that we would like to come to us?  The point of all of this is that radical hospitality is not something we do, it is an aspect of who we are as Christians and as a community of faith.  We are not static creatures, and life in community requires both the stability of defined interactions and the flexibility to experience the deepening and strengthening of relationships.  Therefore the norm is not the defined, programatic response to visitors, it is the quality of relationships that we express and extend in our common unity.  Hospitality that is truly radical is found in our ability to give ourselves over to each other, just as Christ has done for us.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Clergy Retreat

Today I am writing from an annual clergy retreat.  Seventeen friends from seminary and our 13 children from all over the country have converged in Nags Head, North Carolina for the week.  All of us have been in ministry for roughly 8-10 years.  We are Educators, Pastors, Associate Pastors, Campus Ministers, and Doctoral Candidates.  Our ages range from 30's to 50's, and we are equally balanced between men and women.  Our ethnic representation is about the same as the denomination (99% White, 1% Other).  

Tonight's topic of discussion centers around whether or not a pastor should know what congregants give to the budget.  The topic initiated by one of our members reflecting on the comment of an older minister from his presbytery offered in a Pastor's lunch.  His primary reason was to determine the commitment of the membership.  The response has been varied and slightly heated.  Primarily the rebuttal is that it leaves us at risk of knowing information that creates personal bias.  

The return question is focused around the need to talk openly about money, the public confession of sin, and the way such conversations allow or empower the Pastor to lead the congregation.  Responses continue to be connected to affirm the idea that it could make us beholden to members in the long run.  Further, that the knowledge of individual giving creates a power dynamic that is a challenge to humility.

Personally, I do not want to know.  I agree that such knowledge does correlate to power, and our greatest asset as Pastors is the ability to lead as Jesus did.  Jesus gave up power at every turn, even unto death- and that on a cross!  Now, that's the scary part.  What is it that I need to do to give up power in order for God to be glorified?  How can I allow myself to be put so at risk that I might be considered cursed so that God might be glorified?  And further, how can I do this and still be a good father and husband who provides for his family? These are core questions for me in my continued journey of faith.  

As an Associate Pastor who supports Mission and Christian Education, I know that I am called to offer a certain amount of guidance.  Yet I work with incredibly talented and spiritually gifted leaders.  That's central to our polity and theology, the idea that God calls us into corporate fellowship with shared leadership responsibilities.  And so we dance.  We meet and consider God's presence in our midst.  We argue about what we need to be doing, how, and why.  We reflect on what God has done in our midst and how we might be a part of what God is yet to do.

One of the resources I am reviewing this week is "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations".  It's a United Methodist resource, and it was brought in by one of our elders.  An ecumenical approach brought in by an elected leader, that's exciting!  I'm looking forward to it because it is a team oriented approach to ministry that answers the conflict inherent in power dynamics that arise in the church.  As I have been reading it, fundamentally the approach is examining the practices that the church seems to be using as an auto-pilot and pushing them to the point of risk taking "for the love of God."  Hospitality, as an example, is not simply being friendly.  It is a perspective that orients the quality, content, and intention of our relationships.  It focuses our priority equally on the quality of our fellowship and the ones with who we need to extend it to.  Notice the difference between "extend it to" and something like "those we need to bring in". 

Radical Hospitality, as it is called in this resource, is focused externally.  We must also have something to extend, but to attend to the interior without the exterior is an incomplete proclamation of Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I'll talk more about Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity in my next few posts.  For now I will drink from the well of common unity.  My cup runneth over!