Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Door Set Open, by Peter Steinke

Chapter 9 – A Different Future

1.  Steinke begins with a laundry list…“responses that proved beneficial to congregations in the throes of change.”  Laundry, he says, is everywhere.  At the top of his laundry list is “the need for mature and motivated leaders in the congregation.”  Such leadership relies on differentiation…“a process in which a person’s functioning is guided by a direction, supported by beliefs and values, and monitored by thoughtful behaviors rather than emotional reactivity.” 

Edwin Friedman “believed that mature functioning in a leader incites reactivity in the least mature. It is simply not possible to lead successfully through self-differentiation without inciting reactivity. The capacity of a leader to be aware of, to reflect upon, and to work through people’s reactivity may be the most important aspect of leadership. It is ‘the key to the kingdom.’”  “The challenge of change for leaders is to keep one’s eye on the ball (stay focused), take the heat (remain nonreactive), stay connected (talk and listen), and get a good night’s sleep.”

Well, now…that can’t be so hard!  But why is it?  What support can congregations offer its leaders to maintain healthy self-differentiation?

2.  Change is difficult.  “Today’s church should not be looking outside itself or seeking the quick fix. First, a massive educational task is at hand. What do I mean? Church leaders have to reeducate people as to the purpose of the church. The purpose of the local church is not primarily to be one’s church home or extended family, though it can be at times. And it is not to survive by obtaining more people for its support base. Its purpose is to invite people to be part of the true mission of the church. Reception into the church is only a threshold to involvement in its mission. The task of the church is not to accumulate attendees. The church is a school for developing agents of the new creation from among those who are the beneficiaries of God’s grace.”

What do you see as St. Mark’s primary purpose?  What is your role in clarifying and carrying out that role?

3.  Steinke believes change comes from the ground up and by reframing the issues at hand in congregations.  He draws from Jim Collin’s business background.  “Business, he claims, is focused on profit; the social sector, on the other hand, is based on service. Performance assessment in the social realm, therefore, is not dependent on financial returns or resources. The question for those in the social sector is, ‘How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact?’ To make a special impact, Collins says, social organizations must reframe; that is, they must focus on outputs (services), not inputs (receipts).”  “I think congregations encounter an emotional barrier in highlighting the inputs as what really counts and regarding the outputs as secondary or optional.”

How do we discern an appropriate and healthy balance of outputs and inputs?  How do we define each of these today?

4.  “Churches have a strong tendency to keep difficult things under the table. Little changes because conflict-laden things are hidden. Of course, then, some laundry never gets done.”  Steinke illustrates this with Kohlrieser’s story of the fishermen in Sicily, whose instructions were, “Put the fish on the table.”  That’s the difficult, but necessary, starting place for addressing change. 

“As with the Jews, Christians base their hope through a memory system. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8a). Hope is grounded in God’s faithfulness and promises. With hope grounded in the expectation of a new world when all is forgiven, all is set free, all is restored, the future is different.”

As we “put our fish on the table” before God, we receive forgiveness and share in the hope of the resurrection.  How does this Christian hope transform our present and shape our future?  How does it create “a door set open” so that you and I can make a difference?

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Door Set Open, by Peter Steinke

Chapter 8 – Where to Touch the Elephant

1.  Steinke asks, “Let’s probe the elephant-touch dilemma as it affects the life of today’s church: If we think of the elephant as representing the congregation’s mission, do all touches have the same value? Is there a place we all must touch? Finally, can we touch the mission in different places, disagree, and still work together?” 

Please offer your responses to these questions.

2.  “Tikkun olam (to mend the world) embraces small gifts and large ones. Your response of mercy, generous offerings, or shared witness makes a difference. In no way is God’s future dependent on our offerings, but the new creation is open to all gifts of our hands and hearts. We are part of God’s creative scheme when we care for something larger than ourselves.” 

How do you see yourself as a participant in “tikkun olam?”
What opportunities are before us as individuals and as a congregation to “repair that which is broken” in our communities and beyond?

3.  “From a biblical perspective, the kingdom of God gives special attention to the poor. The term poor as used in the Scriptures does not necessarily indicate economic deprivation.”

“God is active in behalf of the well being of the world, especially those whose well-being is most tenuous. The God–neighbor relationship is elemental to mission.”

Who are the poor among us today?  What opportunities is God offering us to witness to and serve the poor?

4.  “Next, we will consider what happens when we touch different parts and disagree about the nature of mission. Which part of the elephant best represents the elephant? In our society, we are increasingly clustering into like-minded groups.

The big tent where people could openly express diverse views is giving way to small groups of like-mindedness. People are herded into the cramped space of special interests or value issues or partisan positions. Then, too often, we handle our disagreements aggressively, even viciously.”  “To their misfortune, churches are imitating the wider society and resorting to the ideologue’s frame of reference – either or, this or that, and black or white - which is in reality an emotional reaction.”  Steinke illustrates this with the case study involving Pastor Rex and Valley Church…a sad, but realistic, example.  “Situations like this give the church a magnificent opportunity to disagree profoundly over matters without turning away from one another or turning against one another.”

Why are such scenarios becoming increasingly more prevalent?
How can we address such conflict when it arises?

5.  “We fail to be the agents of God’s mission because we do not know how to answer the blunt question: What more are you doing than others? What we forget is that a congregation’s public face is part of the mission. What do people see when we are at odds? When we are loaded with anxiety? Outside the community of faith, people don’t have a whole lot of interest in our mission statements, only our mission practices. We will from time to time touch the elephant in different places. Indeed, we can fight it out as we would in any other place. Perhaps a more mature response would be, ‘I don’t agree, but the mission takes precedence over my self-interests.’”

Let’s zero in on Steinke’s initial question: “What more are you doing than others?”

How does this question both intimidate and motivate us to be agents of God’s mission?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Door Set Open, by Peter Steinke

Chapter 7 – The People of the Way

1.  Steinke begins by noting that “movement” is connected to both learning and mission.  “Movement is a significant part of both biblical content and spiritual living.”  He illustrates this with examples from Old and New Testaments, as well as The Apostles’ Creed.  Citing Sydney Carter, “The resurrection narratives depict a God who is constantly on the move, energetic, revealing here, now.”  He stresses that we can live our Christian lives in one of three ways: inertly, reluctantly or freely.”

How have you experienced each of these three?  Where do you find yourself right now?

2.  “William Bridges, a consultant on transition management, says change is an event. Our experience of the change is transition. He cites three movements—endings, the neutral zone, and beginnings—in the transition experience:

“All we know is that periodically, some situation or event deflects us from the path that we thought we were on, and, in so doing, ends the life-chapter we were in. In order to continue our journey, we are forced to let go of the way we got that far. Having let go, we find ourselves in the wilderness for a time, and until we have lived out that time can we come back around to a new beginning.”

We face the temptations of avoiding change and adopting the “additive fallacy,” which copes by adding more of this or that to the equation. 

What makes it difficult for us to accept and navigate our “tumbling” through the neutral zone experiences of life?

3.  “The process of ripening may be as or more important than the outcome or production, such as data or numbers.

 Meaningful, lasting outcomes are the result of the journey and the learning that takes place. Maybe a word of caution should be stamped on all programs: “Not transferable.” Transition time, especially the neutral zone experience, is life’s curriculum. Being on the path opens new insight; being on the path, not the steps one takes, is the very condition necessary for learning. Tumbling is disruptive but equally instructive.

Steinke continues: “Churches need to remember that no handbook is available on freelancing mission. Only by going out, being there, and seeing from a fresh angle will the process lead to learning. Discovering how to respond to shifts and changes is the learning. Self-confidence is a byproduct. But growth is in the struggle, the push, and the journey. Churches in decline need to look beyond the BIG RESULT and become the people of the way—tumble and all.”

Where do you find yourself tumbling these days?  Where is St. Mark tumbling as people of the way…and how are we managing the journey?

4.  Finally, Steinke shares Friedman’s creation story involving survival versus adventure…stability versus mobility.  Movement favors one and not the other.  The door is set open.  Let’s conclude with Steinke’s final questions:

“Are we a people of the way or in the way?  Are you ready to explore the neighborhood?”