The Cost of Business

February 19, 2010 at 7:12 am (Leadership) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Shortly before I was terminated, we were in a regional staff meeting and were told that the denomination was bleeding $200k a month.  This would mean there would most likely need to be 10-12 FTEs cut from the budget.  A couple months later, my politically-motivated termination occurred.  One of my friends, who is skilled in the ways of the Church, explained it to me this way:  “You gave them a freebie,” he said.

In other words, because I’m a challenger of the status quo, they felt no emotional attachment to me, saw me as a threat to the organization, and had no qualms about pulling the plug.  The irony, of course, is that when things get tough, that is exactly when you want people who can see things differently and are passionate enough about the organization that they are willing to stand up to the establishment.

It isn’t hateful terrorism that motivates me.  It is passion to do the right thing – as opposed to doing (the wrong) things right.

Well, since last Spring, things have continued to get worse.  At a recent town hall meeting, the constituents were told that there would be approximately 25 additional FTEs cut.  Also, a $1,000,000 grant would not be paid to a local university – and some other budget cutting options, which include a 5% employee pay cut for.

(NOTE: Because pastors have not seen a cost-of-living pay raise in a couple of years, and now have had their pay cut by 5%, in effect they are making about 15% less than they were a few years ago.  However, the cost of living continued to increase during that same time.  This means that someone making $50k a few years ago, is essentially only making $43k now.)

During the course of this town hall meeting, it was made clear that the $1million grant obligation would be honored when the economy turned around.  This was probably due to the pressure put on the denomination by the president of the university, who upon receiving the news, immediately drove four hours to meet with the leadership and plead for that money.

One employee at the town hall meeting asked if the same salary obligations would be honored for employees?  In other words, would employees be reimbursed for the pay cuts they’ve endured over the past few years – including the recent 5% cut?  Though the president acknowledged the question, and though he didn’t actually answer the question, most were left with the impression that the answer was “no.”

Asked where the 25 FTEs would be cut, constituents were told that three or four would come from the approximately 50 administrative and support positions.  Five or six would be teachers.  The remaining 15 positions would be front-line pastoral positions.

If it’s true that “the resources are in the harvest (Matthew 17:27),” then one would wonder, “why cut front line personnel?”

Aren’t these pastors the very ones who will continue to grow the church?

Currently, 50-60% of operating budgets go to maintaining a parochial school system.  Teacher staffing levels are state-mandated – at least if the schools want to keep their accreditation.  Research has shown that there should be at least one FTE pastor for every 150 in attendance – and in order to grow the church, pastoral staff needs to be front-loaded and in place before the next 150 start attending.  Without excess pastoral capacity, the church is unlikely to grow.  Yet, in the past few years, most churches are not only not staffed for growth, they are understaffed for their current attendance levels.

I’m beginning to believe what George Barna, Frank Viola, Brian McLaren, and others have been saying for awhile.  We are witnessing the dismantling of the church.

I don’t believe this is an overt action on anyone’s part.  I don’t believe anyone has anything but the best of intentions.  It is merely a lack of courageous leadership and a willingness to do whatever it takes to push forward and not retreat into a state of irrelevance, impotence, and ineptitude.

What do you think?  Can the Church survive if we keep treating pastors like second-class employees (not only cutting their salaries and resources, but not taking their input when things get tough)?  What would you do if someone asked?

I’m asking…

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Bring Your Own Subtext

February 13, 2009 at 12:39 pm (change, Feedback Received, Introspection, Leadership, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Today has been an interesting day of reflection and introspection.

First, I heard an interesting interview with Joss Whedon, the creator/writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He coined the phrase, Bring Your Own Subtext.  That phrase right there, redefined a strength I have – which has recently been labeled a weakness.  I’ve been told I have untested assumptions, however, that can also be a gift.

Next, I finished reading a fascinating book excerpt on The Christian Century website.  The article, Poet in residence: Listening for the sacred subtext,

“Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul. Since people are unaccustomed to exploring the mystery of their own souls, they will often work out their spiritual anxieties by attempting to rearrange something external, like a church’s music program. But it doesn’t matter how many changes they make to the environment around them. They will never succeed in finding peace for the angst of the soul until they attend directly to it. This is why people have pastors.”

I’ve known this for years – it is a part of my being, however, I tend to cut to the chase and get right to the core of the problem.  My feelings has been that talking about all the issues surrounding the problem is just wasting your time, and mine.  Here’s the issue, here’s the solution, “is there anything else we need to talk about?”  In fact, I had an encounter yesterday, right along those lines.

And that’s when I cam across this statement in the article:

“I am often unsure that redemption occurs in parishioners’ lives even when I do direct them to the true issue… But that [is] more truth than they [are] prepared to confess at the time. What was clear to me, though, was that unless I invited them to look beneath their complaint to their personal loss, I would only be part of the distraction that was keeping them from ever finding healing for their hurt.”

This is where Barnes shows real skill in his writing – and thinking.  He doesn’t take short cuts (like I tend to do) – he takes his time and lays out the issue.  In the scenario he’s referring to above, I would have just told them what the issue was, and told them to fix it.  But, as he says, this is more truth than most people are able to handle.  When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve been amazed by their continued lack of progress in the area of concern.  I now see more clearly, that if they couldn’t handle the truth, they won’t even be able to hear it.

I’m dealing with several situations right now that are similar to the situation that Barnes writes about.  Unfortunately, I don’t possess the skill sets of compassion or patience that enable me to wait for these conversations to unfold.

I’ll let you read the article for yourself, but there were several key thoughts that leaped out at me.  He talked about the various roles of the pastor (i.e. priest, shepherd, administrator, leader, etc.), but what he proposes is that the pastor becomes a poet – or an interpreter of the truth and a bridge from reality to truth.  This leaped out at me and struck me as something I’d like to become.

I have seen a couple of models for this sort of pastor/poet: Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, and Brian McClaren.  Each of these men, while well versed in the word, are able to lead people into a new understanding of truth – even from well-known scriptures.  Chuck Swindoll is also able to unpack the word in ways I never have seen.  None of these men seem to focus on organizational/leadership issues, they just move ahead – and because of their skill in unpacking the Word, people follow – and people step in to organize the flock that follows.

Later in the day yesterday, I stumbled upon this article – which was an analysis and review of a presentation Rob Bell made at the National Pastor’s Convention. Live from NPC: Rob Bell, Paper cuts, forgiveness, and chocolate covered turds. Several statements really struck me, some from this blog post, and others from live Tweets.  One was that “pastors are not ecclesiastical punching bags.”  Oh, how many times do I feel that people feel like they can say, or do whatever they want towards me, because I get paid to be their friend, and I can’t rebel because I would lose my position.

It’s like, I have to be their friend, because that’s what pastors do – they friend everyone.  Also, because we are supposed to “be like Jesus” we have to just take it.  Bell offers some unique insight on how to receive and process these millions of paper-cuts.  None of them fatal, but nonetheless, they will destroy.

Finally, I share with you a blog, and post, I stumbled across last week.  The more I read of this man’s blog, the more convinced I became that he and I were walking similar journeys.  His post, Go, or Get Dragged!, dealing with the challenges of orthodoxy, really pushed some buttons in my soul.  From the quote and his post, I now more clearly see why I get so much heat when I step out of the box.  The problem is, I really don’t know where the box is.

I now see why some people are so anxious about my attempts to step out of the status quo – or even explore other possibilities.  I think they forget that Jesus was not orthodox either.  And I can’t forget that it was the religious leaders that killed Jesus.

But, the final revelation I had was after I got home last night and read some of the comments to the post on Rob Bell’s talk.  One quoted a Bell podcast:

“In a Neue podcast in October, Bell shared that his wife had helped him to see that by creating a church that is different from other churches he was tacitly criticizing others. He was picking a fight. I think this realization was a real turning point for him in realizing he had unconsciously or consciously “started it.” I think he has felt humbled and chastened since.”

As I processed this comment, I realized that basically, when I suggest a new way of doing things, I am “tacitly criticizing others.”  I started the push-back, now didn’t I?  That great theologian, Sir Isaac Newton taught us that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now, all I have to do is develop a new subtext, within a broken orthodoxy that refuses to see it’s brokenness – all without getting killed or maimed.  Shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

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Lying to Myself

January 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm (change, Introspection, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Blame is a dangerous thing.  Not only can it do damage to others, but often it involves lying to ourselves.  It is much easier to point fingers at others and cast responsibility on “them.” And while this may satisfy us for a short time, it will come back to hurt us in the long run.

Over the course of the last year I’ve been enduring a number of struggles.  They are too great to enumerate here, but suffice it to say that it was a hard year.  While prone to self-examination, and doing a lot of that, I was quite easily led down the path of blame.

I blamed my employer, my friends, my circumstances, my neighbors, society, and so on and so forth.  Very few escaped the broad swath of blame.  Now the scary part is that I didn’t realize I was doing this.  I knew I was unhappy, I knew I lacked joy, and I knew that there were issues, but in typical fashion, I continued to trudge forward and ignored the consequences.

In the last month I’ve had several epiphanies that have unlocked the the doors to joy, success, and better relationships.  It has really been an amazing thing and I’ve had outbursts of laughter as I’ve realized my own blindness and ignorance.

The first epiphany came just a month ago.  To truly understand this, you need to read, or listen to the story, Who Moved My Cheese?

Last year I was doing the job of my dreams, this year I was doing something different.  Last year I had autonomy and was seeing amazing things happen, this year I had to process everything through committees.  Last year I was living in a state that received 300 days a year of sunshine, this year I live in a state that gets 300 days a year of drizzle.

I first read the above book about six or seven years ago, but recently I picked up an audio copy at a second-hand store.  Though I hadn’t listened to it yet, just the title reminded me of the story.  It suddenly occurred to me – my cheese had been moved and I was acting like Hem and Haw.  Instead of adapting as quickly as I should, I was struggling.

I laughed out loud when I realized this.

The second epiphany came a couple of weeks later.  Again, it came from a book that I’d read several years ago.  One Size Does Not Fit All, was one of those books I read awhile back, but it is very relevant to me now.

In my previous situation I was the leader, but in my current situation, according to McIntosh, I realize I need to be the lover.  While this is a stretch for my giftedness and temperament, it is also an opportunity to grow.

Again, I laughed out loud.  In fact, I laughed for a week on this one.

We knew that we were here following God’s calling, but I didn’t realize just how much of a shift it was from my previous position.

The third epiphany came in the last couple of weeks.  We had an opportunity to visit our previous home and friends.  It was after that visit that I realized how important those folks are to us and how much we miss them.  And during the long drive home, I began to realize how many resentments I had regarding last-year’s move.

I learned through my 12-Step Journey that “expectations are premeditated resentments.”  But I didn’t realize all the expectations I had accumulated over the past few years.

First, I expected to be so successful in my previous project that my employer would throw money and more resources our way.  Second, I never expected to leave the home where my wife and I had settled and where my kids were born.  Third, I expected things here to be different.  And on and on went the missed expectations and ugly resentments.

When I began to realize all the harbored resentments in my soul, I again laughed out loud.  I’ve been laughing for a couple of weeks now.

Releasing those resentments has been very healing.  In addition, I’ve been repairing some broken relationships that occurred through my building resentments.

So, in nutshell, over the course of the last month I’ve realized that my situation changed, and so do I.  I realized just what my current situation is, and I’ve begun to take steps to re-educate myself and grow into the challenge.  Finally, I realize how I’ve been weighed down under a load of resentment, and I’ve let go of that.

“They” say that life is a journey, and I’ve always agreed.  But somehow I thought that journey should be easy – it isn’t.  There are potholes and detours; roadblocks and distractions; clear sailing and storms.

While I’ve been through this part of the journey before (e.g. depression, divorce, missed hopes, and failed dreams), I feel now like I’ve learned this lesson better than I ever have before.  It always makes me said to see people stuck in time and expecting something else.

I’m hoping and praying that others can move past their resentments and grasp the opportunities of the present.

I’ve got to say, that since I learned that my cheese has been moved, discovered where to find my new cheese, and let go of the resentment that prevented that journey – I’m re-experiencing the joy of life!

And that, has made all the difference.

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