The church & Christ

The small ‘c’ is intentional in church…you’ll figure it out.

On the one hand it is not an easy task to speak theologically about the church (small ‘c’ institutional/brick and mortar place or that non-church church that is very much the same thing even though it says it is not) and Christ.

On the other hand we act and speak rather cavalierly about these things all the time – let’s pick the difficult path shall we?

When we speak theologically about the church we are speaking of Ecclesiology. When we speak theologically about Christ we are speaking of Christology.

Now I say this can be difficult because one person’s Ecclesiology is not necessarily another person’s. In my world (Pete World), Ecclesiology and Christology are so deeply intertwined and overlapping as to be nearly indistinguishable from one-another.

In other places Ecclesiology and Christology are very different (although inter-related) things. In some places Ecclesiology is very much about how our brick & mortar churches operate, are structured and managed etc.

I think this is a mistake.

I think that if we see Ecclesiology as an extension of Christology in the sense that the Church, big ‘C’ body of Christ composed of all believers everywhere and united through the Holy Spirit (now see I just brought in another ology – Pneumatology) we come to a better place in our overall theology.

Christ is the Church and the Church is Christ. This is effected through the Holy Spirit. The Church is not a pastor, nor a collection of pastors. It is not a building, it is not a denomination, it is not a small group, it is not a program, it is not a missionary.

But…

Inasmuch as the individuals who make all of these things up are believers – they are part of the Church – the visible, living, active body of Christ.

This, in my opinion, is a proper Ecclesiology.

We must think in terms of Christ and then in terms of believers bound together through the Holy Spirit. Out of this comes an Ecclesiology that is personal, community oriented and exceptionally Christ-like (at least in hope and theory).

So why do we care?

Well for one thing take a look at what we, our fellow believers and our churches look like when we act as if Ecclesiology is specifically related to our building, their administration, staffing and management.

Since the Church is literally the Body of Christ, active and alive in this world, a good exercise is to look to the Biblical portrayal of Christ and compare to the institutional church.

Let’s build a profile:

  • According to varying bits of research more than two-thirds of the world’s millionaires are Christian.
  • The average annual income for televangelism is estimated to be roughly $2.3 billion
  • The Anglican church has an investment portfolio worth more than $6.7 billion plus $255 million per year in interest, $320 million in annual donations and $400 million in annual revenue from various events.
  • The Vatican Bank lists it’s asset at $8 billion
  • Add to these things land ownership, infrastructure (buildings, houses, vehicles, computers, phones, rugs, pews, sound systems, expensive LED signs, marketing, etc)

These things arise from an Ecclesiology that is infrastructurally based…not Christ-centered; not humanity-centered.

One could argue that these things are necessary to win and educate souls in the 21st century and it is unfair to compare the modern Church to the pre-modern Christ.

We cannot ask the question “If Christ lived would he have ________?” because it betrays a lack of faith in the fact that Christ did live and continues to live.

The real question to ask is, if the institutional church is the body of Christ why did He take such a u-turn in terms of practice?

Why did Christ start accumulating wealth and property? Why did He start building temples? Why did he start spending a lot of money on marketing, advertising, sound systems, LED signs, and more? Why did Christ start doing these things? Why did He stop going into the world and start asking the world to come to his buildings? Why does he support the death penalty but not abortion? Why does he often trumpet military might and conflict?

These all seem like odd choices for the one who claimed to have nowhere to lay his head; the one who had no property; no wealth of any sort; the one who destroyed the temple as it was now useless…you get the idea.

Questions are far more useful to us in our theological inquiry than answers are. We must ask more questions and consider the ramifications of the answers. If this is not Christ than where is He? What is He up to and how do we re-connect? Have we abdicated our role to a mindless, soulless institution in favour of the comfort of knowing we are paying others to do what the Spirit of God commands us all to do?

Serious questions.

A Vignette

I feel as if I have pulled away from things and into some sleepy dream,” she thought. “As if I have been tugged from within to without and only now, after so much time, am I receding back into myself…but now my view has become so different. My windows have become winter-frosted and the world is grey and cold.

Margaret got up from her chair and moved slowly to the window of her room to look out upon the wind whipped fields, all stubble since the harvest. The room itself was small, painted a pale egg yolk yellow. It was sparse and institutional which was appropriate because it was a room in an institution. A crucifix hung upon the east wall and from it dangled a rosary.

Saint Lutgardis’s Home for the Aged was the least auspicious of senior facilities. A small, century old, red brick affair with a mere dozen rooms in a bucolic village that seemed to have shrank to less than this even.

Connected to the home by a small brick, many windowed hall was a two story, similarly bricked convent with a mere six nuns and a Mother Superior whose lives were dedicated solely to the care of their predecessors, retired nuns like some odd, self-fulfilling, perpetual motion machine in which the present entered to take care of the past failing to see their own future.

Margaret’s past was once Mother Superior. Once Sister Peter Andrew, a name forced upon her by her mother who wanted a priest in the family which she accepted with humility expected of her. Now she was simply Margaret to all.

Leadership & The 10 Rules of Hiring

There is often nothing more stressful in leadership then the hiring experience. This is usually due to a lack of preparation, low-balling salaries and unrealistic expectations/timelines.

RULE 1: The first rule of hiring should be – “Don’t Panic“.

This is true, fear and panic often derail the hiring experience as leadership makes poor decisions based primarily on filling a role quickly instead of responsibly.

The truth is a quick hire may solve a few problems in the short term but it can kill you in the long term.

RULE 2: Take as long as you need to hire a good person into the role. There is no time limit.

In the meantime re-deploy responsibilities to the best you are able and make do. If you have to shelve certain functions and run the role on life-support until the new hire is selected.

RULE 3: Develop a THOROUGH and APPROPRIATE job description. NEVER hire a person without a very thorough job description. If the position is new make sure you go through a strategic visioning process to ensure the role is complete and dovetails into other roles in the organization without conflict.

Thorough does not mean make them do EVERYTHING. Make sure the description is focused.

If the vacancy arose as a result of a departure make sure you ask yourself first – is this an opportunity? By which I mean can the role be re-tooled, re-purposed, split into two etc. to the needs of the organization that have likely changed since the role was first created. You may find you do not need what you think you need.

RULE 4: Do not over-hire. By this I mean do not hire a Swiss army knife employee (hinted at in Rule 3). Many organizations think they can find some mythical chimera employee who has five radically different, conflicting skill-sets. These are VERY rare. You chances of finding one are low AND the chimera is generally not deep in any of their skills but rather shallow in many. This offsets the number of skills.

RULE 5: Personality first, skills second – ALWAYS. Having been through the hiring process countless times and worked with many other who have as well I can tell you the one regret that continues to rise to the top is from hiring a person based primarily on their skills rather than and often despite certain clear issues with personality.

Most of the skills you need can be learned/taught over a reasonable time. However it is VERY difficult for an asshole to unlearn being an asshole.

It doesn’t matter how many degrees they have, how many decades of experience, how many committees chaired etc. If they are a class A pain the neck RUN.

You can learn to discern most people’s personalities through a thorough interview, which brings us to our next rule.

RULE 6: Ask a lot of questions! For Heaven’s sake take the interview seriously. Avoid deciding based solely on a resume. You are bringing a person into the fold to join your team – making a bad choice at this stage can lead to catastrophic consequences for the organization.

Don’t ask Yes and No questions. Ask questions that require a thoughtful and detailed response. Provide hypothetical scenarios that require engagement. Do not avoid the tough questions. These things will help you better understand the person you are dealing with.

RULE 7: Be Honest. Do not hide potential problems in the organization for fear of losing a candidate. Be as honest and transparent as you can no matter how horrible the truth may be (“the last person in this role was eaten by the photocopier”). If the candidate is successful they will learn about your dysfunctions and will feel betrayed by the lack of honesty. This destroys trust and ultimately will lead to the person’s departure and reduced motivation and performance.

RULE 8: Pay them properly. Too many organizations (especially not-for-profits) think they can hire God’s nephew for $18,000 a year and expect them to perform all the duties of the CEO of Intel AND their executive assistant in a part-time role.

“We want you to raise $1 million a year AND make the board coffee and sandwiches when necessary”

Uh huh. Really? See Rules 3 and 4.

Rule 9: CHECK REFERENCES! I put this in all caps because it is shocking how many organizations fail to check references. Why? Why in the world would you not? Make sure you get employment references. Ask for the last two employers. This question alone can help weed out candidates. If there is a 13 year gap in employment references you need a good reason – ask.

When you are talking to previous employers focus on personality, working in a team and working with clients. Were they ever disciplined? If so why? Why did they leave? etc.

I feel so strongly about this I will say that you should NEVER hire a person if you have not checked their references.

Rule 10: Don’t Interview Alone. If you can, always have one or two additional people with you during the interview process. They don’t have to ask questions but they do have to provide you with insights afterwards.

If you are in a small organization bring a trusted mentor or peer in from outside. It’s ok to do this. You can also ask board members or other employees to assist.

Many a bad decision has been avoided due to the feedback received from others who have been invited into the process. It also ensures clarity if their is confusion about something said because you will have other witnesses to assist.

Final Thoughts: These are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a complete or comprehensive list. Consider this the foundation and feel free to adapt and develop it. If you do all of these things you stand a good chance of hiring the right person for the job.

Remember – If after all of the time and energy invested in the hiring process you do not find someone refer to Rule 1 – Don’t Panic. Don’t hire on a deadline. Start the whole process over again if necessary – review the role, salary etc. Trust me you will be far better off in the long term by waiting for the right candidate and crafting the best role(s) possible then rushing headlong into a bad decision.

A Letter to the Church, Good Friday 2017

“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27

Upon the day of our Lord’s death it is good to reflect upon the nature of church and the point of sacrifice.

Further it may be time to consider that perhaps the barbs we, as Christians, have been throwing at the institutional church should be turned back upon ourselves.

I say institutional church for a reason – the buildings, the pastors, the programs, the pews – these things are not the Church, the body of Christ – these things are our own creation…we, in fact, are the body of Christ.

But of course we know these things…we just find it convenient to forget we are the Church from time to time that we might blame our weaknesses on the institutional church and the pastors we place there.

Increasingly these days (although I assume this has always been an issue to one degree or another) Christians have walked out on their churches in great numbers all the while blaming the very institutions and staff for their abandonment while forgetting their own responsibility as the actual Church, the body of Christ, which is right now and always, at the centre of history, hanging and bleeding and dying on a cross.

When we, as Christians, look at our churches and pastors, and proclaim them profane, boring, unloving, broken, irrelevant, etc. we are, in fact, failing to see that these self-same churches are our own creation and as such our responsibility. Walking away from our creation is exactly the opposite of God’s lesson to us in Christ.

The churches are the visible manifestation of our own character to the world. If they are corrupt, broken and unloving this is our responsibility and frankly, our fault as they are merely reflections of our own poor character.

Leaving them does not help.

Why do you think the new churches we visit or start after we leave the one’s we dislike often fail or turn into the thing we despise? They do so because they too, are our creation, reflective of our selves.

These institutions are actually useful inasmuch as they are guided by faithful Christians to provide teaching, the sacraments, and a holy space to meet the God who dwells within each of us.

Unfortunately we abdicated our responsibilities as the body of Christ and gave them to the institution, that it, this human thing, might be Christ’s body instead of us.

We tell the church to evangelize, heal, visit, clothe, forgive, feed, house and more that we might not have to. We give it money in exchange for these services and we become terribly critical if it falls down on the job. We fail to recognize that this church will ultimately fail in these tasks EVERY TIME because these tasks are supposed to be the very outworking, the very breath of the body of Christ which is you and I.

The church is not the problem with Christianity today. The problem with Christianity is the Church. I trust you see the distinction.

YOU love. YOU heal. YOU feed. YOU clothe. YOU pray. YOU visit. YOU forgive. YOU evangelize. YOU house.

You do these things as an outpouring of the Spirit of God within you that when you gather on a Sunday you might do so in the overflowing of all these things you have done in the week. That you might recharge as other Christians continue to do the work given to them by preaching and teaching.

If the institutions are broken it is because we Christians built them as we would build robots to do the very holy work we have been given, our liturgy. We have created soulless automatons, dumb clay golems, machines without ghosts and expected them to perform as Christ that we might simply feed and feed and feed and get fat in our own judgement and laziness.

Right now Christ is dying on the cross for the purpose of enabling you and I to do the things we have abdicated to bricks and mortar. Right now Christ bleeds the very forgiveness and life we are to offer, not our churches. There is nothing compelling or noble about a corporation’s love…only living love is compelling.

When you look at your local church and dislike what you see perhaps consider that you are looking in a mirror.

The good news is there is time. For just as Christ forever hangs upon the cross so too does he forever rise to new life. Wherever there is death new life is possible.

Strip away from your churches the expectations you have that should be placed on yourself. Take away your churches’ mandate to do what you should be doing that they might be free to become the celebratory gathering and worship spaces they were meant to be while you become the Christ you were meant to be. There is still time.

The burden of Christ, the burden of the cross is too great for a church…it was meant to be carried by the Church. It was meant to be carried on your shoulders and on mine.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

 

 

 

ink

Mother is etched black into my skin
a maze that winds atop the veins she built
reminder of her blood that races still,
pressing me toward the good things

Every needle pierce, a small reminder of
Mother, whose beauty came through pain;
Mother, whose ink is all over me…
Mother through whose lost blue eyes I see

Image

Led to the Cross: A Sudden Sermon

x-tie-bar-cross-iron-support-for-structure

So I was driving to Winnipeg to pick my sister up at the airport yesterday and while I drive I do a lot of thinking.

Sometimes I get caught up wanting to write things down but I can’t because I’m driving. Well that happened this time. I was thinking a lot about the state of the world these days (which I seem to do a lot) and how divided people are, particularly along faith lines. This both saddens and frustrates me (as I am sure it does others).

I decided to record my thoughts as I was driving so I would not lose them and that is what I am posting below. I apologize for the sound quality and the fact that I am speaking at an odd cadence as well as speaking loudly over the sound of the vehicle. Since I had no notes I had to go slower than I usually would. I also apologize for use the word “verily” for some reason. How odd to use such an archaic word that I never use…literally ever. I have never said “verily” before and I hope never to again.

At any rate what follows is what I am calling a “Sudden Sermon”…simple thoughts on the cross and my concerns about how Christians have been responding to violence and threat lately.

 

Money & Leadership

Beware the person who thinks they just need enough money to complete any task or accomplish any goal…they will lead you down the garden path and, in the end, there will never be enough.

You know the people I’m talking about. Perhaps you are one of those; perhaps you have been one – I certainly have been.

The kind of person I’m talking about treats budgets and money like a magic bullet – if you can just get a large enough budget you can do anything, complete any project, satisfy any need.

This is not true.

Money, like time, paper, pens, printers, computers etc. is simply a resource, one of many drawn on toward the reaching of a goal.

Money, as such, is the byproduct of sound planning, critical thinking and good leadership, and should be required as sparingly as possible and not thrown about like so much water on a fire.

Let’s look at it another way. Some people, when given a task, set their minds first and foremost to coming up with a number; a budget large enough with which they feel they can accomplish whatever lay before them.

It is these same people, that when failure inevitably comes, will instantly point to the lack of sufficient funds and the people who control the purse strings as the reason for failure.

I was never given a large enough budget to accomplish the task,” they bemoan.

If they trusted that I knew what I’m doing they would have given me more money…this failure is their fault – not mine…” etc., etc., ad nauseum.

This is the proverbial cart before the horse.

Due diligence and prudence in developing a sound, well-researched plan ahead of time, laid out carefully and in detail need to be put in place well ahead of any budgetary determinations.

I do not mean the kind of rationalizing/planning that seeks to justify a large amount of money ahead of time which is so often the case. I mean the kind of planning that seeks out every possible means and strategy to accomplish the goal with as LITTLE resources as possible.

This requires a great deal of creativity. It requires more than one mind contributing. It requires the kind of person who has developed a network of resources because they are committed to the understanding that people, more than any amount of money, are the key to long term success.

With this kind of thinking and leadership in place the money you save can go toward things that really matter – recruiting, retaining and rewarding staff and volunteers. More resources with connections to more resources.

A wise person once told me that if you want to know the heart of an organization – be it a business, a not-for-profit, a house of worship, a family even – look at the budget. Where you find they spend their money you will also find their heart.

A strong and well-led organization does not spend most of it’s money on products and projects but rather on people. They key to success is not one person spending $1 million on a project but 10 people spending $500,000 on that same project and making it 10 times more successful (or $100,000 or $10,000 or $1,000 etc. you get the idea).

When the first thing a person does is to come at you with hands out to accomplish a task it’s probably time to find a different person.