Sacred Bundles and Cows

Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*

My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish.  It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose.  In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.”  The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.” 
The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are.  Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes.  Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963.  Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing.  It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services. 
The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows.  The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen.  I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad.  A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation.  For some congregations this process might take even longer.
It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen.  When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation.  The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be. 
However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well.  Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future?  Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own?  Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road?  Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?

Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.”  Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation.  We cannot add more sacred cows.  True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go?  We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?

*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church”

As Fast As the Last

The work of adaptive change requires an open heart to respect and appreciate the pains of change that you are asking people to sustain. – Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky
 (“Leading with an Open Heart,” Leader to Leader, Fall 2002, 33.)
I have attempted to step back now and then, as I move a congregation through revitalization, to make sure I am bringing people along.  My brain is wired to think far ahead but I know that is not the case for everyone.  I am usually thinking two years ahead and then working back from there to see what steps or direction we need to be heading as a church.  I can get so caught up in my steps and planning that I forget to tell people what is happening.
For United Methodist Pastors it can be hard to remember the pain we are putting people in as we create and move a congregation into change.  We may be moving into a better form of Church and keeping what are core values are (see previous post for more) but do we recognize the pain associate with that.  Do we respect it?  Do we honor it?  Do we ignore it?  Do we speak to it?
One of the greatest moves I have witnessed in my congregation was the willingness for our senior’s Sunday School to move classrooms.  In other congregations, I have witnessed a vise grip on classrooms and they have been seen as sacred space.  Our nursery needed to move.  It was tucked into the corner of the first floor of our Education building.  It was way in the back and hard to get to.  There would be no way a guest would be able to find it.  We also (with the addition of my two kids) had more children in the nursery at that time and the space was too small for the amount of kids we had.  When I approached the class about possibly moving to give more space for the nursery, they did so happily and with pride.
They moved to another room right off the Sanctuary, which is smaller and doesn’t provide limited noise buffering from anything happening in the sanctuary.  There have been some pains since that transition and I admit there are times when I don’t give it much thought.  But their class has grown and they are filling up that space now.  The question I have to continue to ask myself is how can I continue to serve and honor them as we change?  My worry is that they will feel we are pushing them again with more change.  They might feel left out, ignored, or cast aside.  Yet they are a core of who we are and they are doing vital ministry within our congregation.  I cannot ignore them nor the pains we are asking them to endure as a class.

Change is a lot like hiking with a group of people.  You can only go as fast as the last person.  As a church leader we have to continue to look backwards and see who is at the back of the pack.  How are they doing and how are they reacting to the journey we all are going on.  This doesn’t mean you stop moving forward but it does mean you are doing it together without leaving people behind. 

Change and a Better Me

People will change only if they believe that a new insight, a new idea, or a new form helps them become more of who they are.  Margaret J. Wheatley(Leadership and the New Science, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1999), 148.) 

This quote comes from Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church.  I am going to use some of these 50 quotes to spur some blog posts on leadership and change from my experiences in Revland.
Often time in the midst of change people fear that it will change who they are.  Change does this but not at a core level.  What makes us who we are at our core is essential to who we are and that is what we fear might change when something new happens. 
When I became a father I really wasn’t nervous about the change coming to our family.  My wife and I were excited about this “something new” coming into our lives.  I had no clue what was in store for me as a new father but I knew I was excited about it.  Now, having two children, I tell soon-to-be fathers and mothers that the best way to describe it is to put your life down on a piece of paper.  Take that piece of paper and get in your car.  Drive your car down the highway at 70mph.  Then open your window and throw your paper/life out the window.  Once a child enters your life, it is never the same.  Everything is different but you never want it to go back.
The act of change scares many people because they are worried it will effect everything.  The truth is though, while everything changed for me when I had a child and now children, I am still me.  I have different roles to play now.  Life is different but I am still me.  In fact I feel I am more me now then when I was single or newly married.  When the kids move away and it is just my wife and I again, things will change but I will still be me. 
As a congregation moves through change one of the biggest things that clergy should pay attention to is what makes that church…that church.  What is its core values.  What draws people in and connects them to God.  When you define those core values then you can freely do different things, reminding people along the way the core values never change it just may be done differently.
Too often this gets left out of the conversation or pushed to the back burner.  Instead we should concentrate on those values, preach them, celebrate them, honor them and then remind them, preach them, celebrate them, honor them as change happens.  This will allow the church as a whole to take the journey together and not feel like they will lose themselves along the way.  Then they will be excited about the new thing because it will help them become more of who they are.


In the current book I have been reading they used a phrase I have never heard before but I found quiet spot on.  They referred to a group of church people as “protectionists”  I wondered if they made it up.  A Google search later I learned that protectionists is a noun that means “The advocacy  system, or theory of protecting domestic producers by impeding or limiting, as by tariffs or quotas, the importation of foreign goods and services”   It is a term used in economics.

The definition has some church similarities too.  The way the author was using it was to describe those people within a congregation who protect certain church buildings, rooms, or other items.  These are the people who are the protectors of the parlor, the defenders of the doilies, they protect the fine tablecloths from ternary, and they are the guardians of…well…”stuff”.

These are the people, and every church has them, who don’t want the good tablecloths used because children may spill juice on them (because older people never EVER spill anything!).  They are the ones who want banners to stay on walls forever because they were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Legacy and they would roll over in their graves if they ever came down.  They hold down the status quo and are road blocks for change.

Protectionists believe they are doing what is right for the church.  They are protecting the church from what they deem as harmful and heresy.  What they don’t realize is in the midst of their protecting they are turning those items into idols.  At some point tablecloths are more important than welcoming children.  Couches in the parlor are too good to be used for a bride to get ready on.  They are turning things into holy objects that are to be worshiped   They are creating idols.

What is more important to a church, hospitality or clean tablecloths or couches?  What looks more inviting, new carpet or the old 1970’s green that has faded in the sunlight over these 40 years?  Nothing should be more important than bringing people to Christ.  No building nor the objects within them is more important then our mission to follow Jesus, make disciples and transform the world.

Protectionists out there…what are you protecting?  Have you created your own golden calf?

Matthew 21:23-32 – Sermon – Two Sons

(Caution this is only a draft, so please excuse the typos and other grammatical mishaps.  I hope it helps in your preparation though and please help me by clicking on an ad.  Thanks and blessings upon you as you preach this week.)
Matthew 21:23-32
Two Sons
During this Ordinary Time or Kingdom Tide part of the Christian year we have been staying with the Gospel of Matthew because it is Year A.  On the first Sunday of Advent move into a new Christian year and move into the Lectionary’s Year B where we will concentrate on the Gospel of Mark.  But until then we stay with Matthew.  We are in the 21st Chapter which is a busy chapter.  When it starts off we get Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey hearing the cheers and shouts of the crowd.  Then we witness him enter the temple where he throws out the money changers and merchants.  The next morning he withers a fig tree.  All of this happens in the first 22 verses of this chapter in Matthew.
Jesus storms into Jerusalem and turns it on its head.  The religious leaders do not know what to think.  They had heard rumors of this guy named Jesus.  They had sent fellow Pharisees and scribes and teachers of the law to test him, watch him, and critique him.  But here he is; in their holy spot; teaching to a crowd who had come to see him.  They were a little skeptical of this man standing in front of them and so they start to question him.  This is always a bad idea.  No one backs Jesus into a corner.
They ask him, “By what authority are you doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?”  Jesus does not like to be tested.  He does not like to be questioned in such a way that assumes that we have the answers and he doesn’t.  Some might say he has a God complex, but since he is God it is okay in this situation.  He answers them the way that Jesus answers most questions, with a question.  In this brilliant move he turns over the tables in the temple once again, this time metaphorically instead of real tables.  The question he asks them is, “John’s baptism – where did it come from?  Was it from heaven, or from men?” 
The religious leaders ponder this question.  I envision some kind of holy huddle in the corner of the courtyard as they discuss the way they should answer.  Jesus only gives them two choices.  John the Baptist’s authority can come from heaven or from men.  If they choose heaven then Jesus is going to ask them why they don’t believe.  If they answer men, they were afraid the people would be upset because they hold John up as a prophet.  They were caught in a Catch 22.  So they baulk and say, “We don’t know.”  Then Jesus tells them the parable of the two sons.
Lovett Weems is the head of the Lewis Center of Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC.  He spoke at the District Superintendent Consultation at the beginning of this year.  During this talk he predicted where the United Methodist Church is going.  Many recounted last that this was a huge eye opener.  Weems predicts that a Death Tsunami will start hitting the UMC in 7 years.  It will be caused by a couple of situations.  Since we became the United Methodist church, since the Methodist Church and the United Brethren merged in 1968, everything that has to do with money has increased.  When we look at where the UM church is now compared to where we were in 1968 our net assets have increased by 206%, giving per worshiper has increased by 178% and total giving has increased by 147%.  This is as a denomination, not as a local church.  This is good news as we sit in the middle of the Great Recession. 
He goes on though to explain that everything that has to do with people is down.  Churches are down 13%, attendance down 18%, membership down 24%, professions of faith down 39% and children and youth down 60%.  But what does this mean?  If our money as a denomination is going up but our people are going down and getting older looking at the number of children and youth, what is happening?  What is happening is fewer people are giving more.  The ones who are giving more tend to be the older members of our congregations. 
Then in 2018 starts the death tsunami.  This is a tsunami that will hit us in the US in general.  By the year 2050 there will 50% more deaths than there were in 2010.  Why?  Because the bulk of our population is getting older.  There are around six generations living currently.  Everyone doesn’t agree on where some generations end and start but there are six alive today.  Let me demonstrate.  If you were born after the year 2000 stand up.  You are part of Generation Z or the Net Generation, or Generation I (for internet).  You’re the newest generation and you haven’t really gotten a name yet.  If you were born between 1980 and 2000 please stand up.  You are part of Generation Y.  Stand up if you were born between 1965 and 1980.  This is my generation, Generation X.  Please stand if you were born between 1946 and 1964.  These are the Baby Boomers.  1925-1945, please stand, you are part of the Silent Generation.  The Greatest Generation are the ones who were born between 1901 and 1924.  Anyone here in that generation?
The largest generation currently is the Baby Boomers.  There were 76 million people born between the years 1946 and 1964.  Only 4 million died before 2000 leaving 72 million Baby Boomers in our populations.  10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day.  The next generation, Generation X only has between 41 and 51 million people (depending on where you get your stats from).  This is far below the number in the generation before them.  This generation has the personality which is not interested in Church.  They distrust institutions, are children of divorce, latch key kids who grew up and don’t want anything to do with their parent’s ideas and beliefs.   The loyal members of the UMC, are the Baby Boomers and Silent Generations.  But by 2050, the youngest Baby Boomer will be 86 years old.  They will be the shut-ins, the ones living on fixed incomes.  The Silent Generation or the GI Generation is leaving this earth at 1,000 people a day.  As that generation dies off it will be the Boomers next and they will leave much faster because there are a lot more of them. This is the start of what Weems calls the Death Tsunami.
Let’s go back to Jesus’ parable today.  After being questioned about his authority and turning that question back on the chief priests and elders, Jesus says, “What do you think?  There was a man with two sons.”  Jesus lays out two examples for the religious leaders to chew one.   Both sons are asked to go work in the field.  The first one says no but then goes out later and does work after he changes his mind.  The second one says he will go out but then doesn’t. 
The first son sounds rebellious and rude.  He tells his father, “I will not.”  He seems defiant and callous against his father’s wishes.  The second son on the surface seems loyal and obedient but later disappoints us when he does not do what he said he would do.  As I was reading this passage again I was struck by a similar parable that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel, the parable of the prodigal son or as it is also called, the parable of the lost son.  In that story the younger son demands his father’s inheritance and spends it frivolously.  He hits rock bottom which was feeding pigs and being so hungry that he wished he could eat what the pigs ate.  For a Jew, this was below rock bottom.  He eventually goes back home to seek forgiveness and gets it, along with a huge party.
The older brother had stayed at home the whole time and did what the father asked.  He ran the father’s business and was obedient.  But when he sees the party for the younger brother here is what Luke’s gospel says, “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father went out and laded with him.  But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!  ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘ you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”  At the end of this parable which brother do you think is really lost?
With this Death Tsunami on the horizon, less than a decade away from the waters starting to rise, what are we going to do as a denomination?  The college of bishops asked the Connectional Table of the denomination (it is like the Church Council of the denomination) to start to look at this approaching problem and start coming up with some solutions.  In this call to action it talks a lot about church vitality.  It asks if our congregations are being vital congregations to their communities.  Are we gaining members, having professions of faith, are we being missional minded, and are we growing in our faith?  Are we making an impact on people’s lives?
Our conference has come out with a score card for a congregation’s vitality.  Looking at four different aspects of the church’s life you get a Revitalization Score.  Depending on your score it tells whether or not your congregation needs to reevaluate, if you are moving in the right direction and making progress or if you have been revitalized.  The key is to make strong congregation who can weather the storm that is about to hit; to make the changes necessary now before the wave begins to roll in.
The two sons in Matthew’s gospel have been all given the same task, to go out and work in the vineyard.  The first one refuses but then eventually goes.  The second says he will do it but doesn’t.  Jesus looks at the religious leaders and then asks them, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  They all agreed this time that it was the first.  Then Jesus tells them that the people they see as dirt in the world, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them. 
In Luke the son who seeks forgiveness, the one that the world sees as the degenerate, is the one enjoying the party the Father has thrown.  The older son is left in the field, angry and pouting.  The second son in Matthew says he will go work but then never does.  We don’t know why but his intentions on being obedient get deterred.   He could have gotten distracted during the day.  He could have been wrapped up in another project and when he picked his head up the day was over.  Whatever the excuse, it is just that, an excuse.  At the end of the day the first son, the one who seems disobedient and rude is the one who does what the father wants.
This week has been hectic and frustrating for those who live on Facebook.  I confess I am trying to understand the changes that this social network has gone through.  Many people though really complained about it. They were angry that this medium they use to communicate for social and business reasons was altered.  They don’t pay to get on but yet they did not like the changes.  Change is hard and to do what God wants can be even harder.  It can become inconvenient, annoying, and bothersome.  Yet we are asked to go do the work in the vineyard.
The reality of the Death Tsunami is true.  In the next forty years the Baby Boomer generation will bow out in dramatic form.  That is not speculation, that is fact.  How the United Methodist Church deals with this reality is up in the air.  Will we survive as a denomination?  Will we be able to make the move from being supported by the Baby Boomers to Generation X, Y and Z?  How we handle this transition, this change will tell us which son we are.
Are we the one who is willing to do the work but then at the end of the day we don’t?  Are we the son who sits out in the field stewing because we feel we deserve something for our loyalty and work?
At the end of this passage the religious leaders stood around with their mouths open wide.  They were under the impression they were doing what God wanted.  They were following the path the best way they knew how.  But what they missed was the fact that God was moving in their midst.  He was doing so with John the Baptist but they ignored him.  God was moving in the Jesus Christ, who was both God and human.  But they rejected him as well.  They missed out on the opportunities God was laying at their feet because they didn’t want to face the reality that God was changing the way the thought about and followed God.  They missed out and the ones who recognized it, the sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes were able to participate in the Kingdom of God that was in their midst.
God doesn’t just seek change, he seeks transformation.  That is what was happening in Jerusalem that week and we are on the cusp of another dramatic move in our denomination.  What son we will be is yet to be determined.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

Two Types of Change

The Reynolds Program in Church Leadership is requiring us to read, Leadership on the Line; Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky (A Harvard Business School Press Book). This is not a book I would think I would see on the shelves of Cokesbury but it is very interesting. I am only a couple chapters in but already it is worth it weight.

The most beneficial insight found so far is their definitions on the two different types of problems or changes that happen within an organization. The first is technical problems. These are problems that the organization already has the skills and resources to fix. This is like the water heater going out in the church. You may not have the resources to fix it but you can easily find a solution, a short fundraiser or calling a ‘certain someone’. The second and more difficult problem they call adaptive challenges. These are problems that cannot be fixed with some direction from a person from on high. These problems/changes “require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments from numerous places in the organization or community. Without learning new ways – changing attitudes, values, and behaviors – people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in a the new environment.”

WOW. They go on to explain a little more about adaptive change but what really struck me is that adaptive change is where is really the job a clergyperson. It is the clergy’s job to help the congregation thought these adaptive struggles and to get them to the other side. It takes careful, considerate, and purposeful leadership. The key though is to be able to define what change you are facing.

For example: Currently we have a great opportunity at Trinity (not a problem, an opportunity). 1/3 of our worship attenders on Sunday are children under the age of 9. We average about 90 in worship and on average we have about 30 children under 9. This is a dramatic change in the life of the church. A decade ago they did not have any large number of kids and now they make up a 1/3 of our population. What I realized is that we are in the midst of adaptive change. There is no previous record of how to handle this ‘opportunity’ within this congregation. We don’t have the resources and at some level skills to minister to these children. It is taking a lot of experimenting and struggling to come up with solutions.

Realizing this is an adaptive change give me, as the clergy person, permission to attempt new ideas and have them fail. It is okay if they fail because we are learning what works and what doesn’t. That permission to fail, because this is an ‘opportunity’ that needs experimentation to solve it, frees me up to not take things personally. That means we learn and we try again. I don’t need to have all the answers only the willingness to attempt to find them. I need to share this with my children’s ministry leaders as well and hope it frees them up too.

Knowing what type of change/problems you are facing provides a great avenue to learn how to lead a congregation through that situation. More to come from this book!