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Fractured Flocks

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I don’t have any idea how many people in the congregation subscribe to the Christian Courier (CC), but in my opinion it is a paper that is being refreshed by a relatively new generation of editors and writers who are not afraid to tackle hard questions for the church.
Even though the official denominational magazine has never addressed this concern in a specific article, CC now has put out a second article on the issue of the rapid rise in struggles between pastors and congregations and the separations that result in what we call an Art. 17 (no-fault agreement to part ways) or Art. 14 (minister stepping out of ministry).
You in Nobleford are of course one of those statistics, and if you haven’t read the original article about this, called “Fractured Flocks” it is worth a read, as is the follow up article which was just made public.
At the Elders meeting last night it came up that often the people of this church think they are the only ones struggling with these kinds of things. But the article makes it clear you are not the only ones.
Update: http://www.christiancourier.ca/news.php (this link no longer leads to the article I wanted to share, but brings you to the latest web page of Christian Courier)

As always, if you have thoughts, I’d love to read them here in the comments.

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A browsing recommendation

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Today, instead of generating a post of my own thoughts, it seems fitting to introduce you to a site that is rich with Christian Reformed ideas and experiences and questions and thoughts. As the weather stays cold, and many of you have some time yet, it can be very worthwhile to browse this site to see what you can learn from others in the Christian Reformed Church. There are places for Elders to share and learn, as there is for Deacons, Sunday School teachers, worship leaders and almost any other category you can come up with.

The site is the CRC Network: http://network.crcna.org/

Take some time to take  a look around it, and maybe type in a search term and see if it has been talked about before.

Here’s a posting there that has relevance to some recent discussions on council:

http://network.crcna.org/content/elders/why-every-elder-needs-deacon

here is another:

http://network.crcna.org/content/elders/so-how-good-are-sermons-crc

And if you came to this blog today for something provocative to think about, take a look at this one:

http://network.crcna.org/content/small-groups/jeff-vanderstelt-talks-about-soma-community

Yes, I admit that I am partly doing this because I believe that Nobleford CRC is a bit isolated and insulated from what is happening in the bigger CRC world, and I am interested in reconnecting you with that.

That is it for now, but I am planning a post with some other interesting links in it for this week as well.

Worship and learning with the whole body involved

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I have a sense that many in this area are so used to the belief and practice that the mind is our best tool for worshipping God and learning about God that it is worth trying to explain how I see that as less than effective.

Read my explanation here: http://wp.me/P3etrg-cE

Please respond, especially if you don’t understand or don’t agree. This is a very important and significant general change of theology and practice going on in the CRC. Also, if you have learned the same thing I’m saying, respond with some thoughts and feelings and experiences of your own.

I changed the look of the blog.

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Don’t be thrown off by the change in appearance please. It is still the same content. I was getting tired of the jumbledness of the tabs. This is neater. We’ve gone from a chalkboard to a notepad.

Sharing someone else’s insight into Grumpy Old Reformed Men this week.

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A former CRC member that reads this blog linked me up to someone else’s blog posting last week, saying it sounds similar to some of what I say on this blog. I read it, and completely agree, and recognize that what that pastor says is very relevant in Nobleford and the whole area.

Here is the link, and below the link I will give my very short summary of what I hear him saying:

http://christopherjgordon.blogspot.ca/2013/08/grumpy-old-men-reformed-tradition.html

Summary (with maybe a bit of interpretation):

The law is an agent or instrument of condemnation. Those grumpy joyless men who control it’s interpretation and application in a community create a conformity club, a cult, a captivity to legalism and other isms that kills people spiritually by a lack of grace-in-action even as it nods the theological head to grace’s existence.
The New Covenant in Christ in contrast is a freeing one. It brings joy, release, renewed relationship with God the Creator through the imputed righteousness of Christ in believers.
Grumpy men (like the parabolic older brother to the originally lost brother) like the power which control of the application of the law gives them (because they are operating in the flesh, not the Spirit) and the power of pressing for conformity in the community. Admittedly there is a kind of security in that conformity, but it is a false comfort. It creates and fosters and festers spiritual death seen in the six rotten fruits he lists. In my own words, these are: Closed Cult; A Complex of opposition to those who don’t believe as they do; Pride in lawkeeping; Strong need for conformity to Group-think & rejection of dissenters; Lack of joy; and many in the community not understanding the gospel of grace at all and in fact being fearful of the liberties grace can give.
Those who have left churches with that practice have moved on legitimately, though often their experience of such churches causes a walking away from Reformed faith altogether.
So, are we fostering fruit of the Spirit through grace? or are we fostering the fruit of the flesh in our churches. A very very important consideration!

Call vs Hire

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In our last Transition Team meeting I shared some information about the weight of what it means to, as we say, “Call” a pastor as opposed to “hiring” someone. This felt like a fitting thing to share this week on the blog, as a few were quite surprised to hear how we view the process in the Reformed tradition. The biggest surprise was to realize how much weight there is on it.

When a person applies to the seminary to undertake the study needed to prepare to become a pastor, the Seminary will readily accept that the person feels called, and begin to train and equip that person. But also, early on in the process, there will be a conversation about how, in our way of doing things a call has a two-fold fulfillment process. The seminary will not likely argue with you about whether you are truly called or not, but they will tell a student that a sense of personal call to preach the word of God must be confirmed by the church by way of a call to come and be their preacher/pastor. Otherwise it is generally not considered a valid calling of God.

This is why, if you have been available for a call for 2 years, you need to do a lot of good explaining to remain eligible. Your personal sense of calling needs to be validated by the church or a church in that time frame. Not everyone who graduates with an MDiv. is called by God or necessarily fully gifted and equipped for the pastorate.

So, in the CRC, when a church extends a call to a pastor, they are validating that this person is called to preach the word of God. There are other commitments by the congregation which are understood to come with that extending of a call. This is much more weighty than “hiring” someone. It is an endorsement of a person’s sense of calling and of their gifting. Of course, if churches do not know this is involved, and see extending a call as similar to a hire, they will not know how important it is to call and what commitments are implied by it. If a church knows the weight of it, then they will do some deep research as they prayerfully consider extending a call. They will not only be asking themselves “Is this someone we feel God has prepared to serve in our congregation? “But also “Is this a person who has a demonstrated call and gifting from God on their life?”

Because it is not then a ‘hire’ it is not as easily rescinded or revoked as is ending a hire. The church has, in extending the call, taken responsibility for saying this person is called by God and we will support them in that calling. A church can’t easily later say, “Oh, he’s not called after all.”

So there is a lot tied in to extending a call. In some ways, it is like a proposal of marriage, and both congregation and pastor are usually encouraged to take a view that this is ‘for life’ though we understand that God calls ministers to new ministries sometimes.

TIC piece about why it is an advantage to be a church bully

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I came across this tongue-in-cheek (tic) article that touches on something related to my last post on challenging bad behaviour — or risking the relationship for the sake of the health of the group — but does it in a playful way. Bullying and abuse of any sort is not fun or funny, but sometimes humour can help us look at things differently. The original article takes the playful perspective of seeing what an advantage it can be to be a manipulating bully in a church. My source, if you want to look at the full piece for yourself, is: http://millennialpastor.net/2014/01/23/12-reasons-why-it-is-good-to-be-a-church-bully/

Here are his 12 reasons to be a church bully (edited  a bit by me):

Church bullies have a special advantage. Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.

Church bullies are not good, but being a church bully is good business these days, and here’s why:

1. Being a bully is the easiest way to get what you want. Churches are groups where people usually have to work together, and work out how to live as a community. That means give and  take, compromise and collaboration. Bullying, however, means you can get anything and everything you want. You can bend people to your wills and desires without giving anything up in return. And as a bully, you don’t have to work with, consider or respect others.

2. Bullies can offer anonymous feedback. Churches are already pretty good at not requiring people to stand behind what they say.  Bullies can send anonymous information to leaders. They can give in-person feedback with the qualifier, “people are saying.” Bullies never have to own the criticisms, and so are free to criticize anything they want to.

3. Bullies often have gossip clubs. Bullies are often supported in a small group that likes to keep up on the latest church gossip. This kind of group can meet for coffee during the week or lunch on Sundays or any number of places. As a bully, you can find allies who are ready to support you, who will offer behind-the-scenes support to your behind-the-scenes bullying. It is always easier to bully when you can be confident you are supported by, or acting on behalf of a club.

4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.

5. You can use your anxiety against others. Human beings don’t like anxiety, we don’t want to be worried or fearful if we can avoid it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Use this your advantage. As a bully, if you can get others to take on your worries, your fears, your issues, your anxiety, most people (especially church people) will do almost anything to relieve you (and therefore themselves) of your fears. Use this to your advantage.

6. You can use the other’s anxiety against them. As human beings we have often been taught that we have two responses to anxiety – Fight or Flight.  Bullies know that this isn’t true. There are 3 – Fight, Flight or Freeze. The best bullies know that freeze is the most common response. If you can make others anxious, you know that their first response will be to do nothing. It is pretty easy to bully people when they don’t do anything or say anything to stop you.

7. You don’t have to be open or transparent. Bullies know this tactic well. It is much easier to bully from the shadows than in the open. Put out information that you can deny came from you. Ambush your victims when others aren’t around to catch you. Make life miserable for people in private, and be an angel in the open. Most people won’t even know that you are a bully. Hide in plain sight.

8. You can play the victim card when caught. So what do you do when someone actually calls you on your bullying? Why accuse them of being the bully, of course! Most people will get so worried that they are bullying you that they will forget all about the fact that you were bullying them first. You never want to defend your own actions, so make other people defend theirs – play the victim card. (this also amps up the anxiety, which causes more freezing)

9. The stakes are low for you but high for others. One of the great things about being a church bully is that the stakes are pretty low. What could happen to you? Churches will rarely kick you off the membership list. Pastors have jobs to keep, leaders have to tend to running the place. As a bully the worst that could happen is people get annoyed with you, but really that’s good for you (see point 6).

10. You don’t have to change. Change is hard. Growing up and being mature is really hard. Bullying means you can stay the same. You don’t have to accept new ideas or learn new things. You can just impose your will on others, make them do what you like, and complain if they don’t. Don’t change, be a bully instead.

11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will most often work to maintain things as they are. They might be comfortable with knowing who you are and tolerating that, because at least you are predictable. You know instinctively that for the system it easier to maintain the norm, and to challenge you and send you packing is too radical a change. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.

12. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself. This is the best part of being a bully of course. You can claim you are speaking for the wronged, the victimized, the silent majority or minority, but really it is all about you. That’s the whole reason you can bully in the first place, because your issues come first. Your needs, your wants, your feelings, your fears, your ideas. You are numero uno, and thinking about others only gets in the way of taking care of you. So put yourself first and you will be a great bully who gets a lot accomplished for your own good.