To paraphrase Allen Ginsberg, “I am seeing the best minds of my generation resign, get kicked to the curb, and drained of their spirit and faith in others.”

I’m seeing pastors resign in surprising numbers. Why are better pastors than me quitting? What is happening? And what is different here than other places?

One friend reported how the parking lot conversations and rising anxiety caused them to resign. It wasn’t just one thing; it was a whole host of things. It was too much to handle, and it was all too personal. As I talk to these pastors, I don’t hear that their call had changed. Their call to ministry was still there. They didn’t change. The congregations, in their anxiety, blamed the pandemic on the pastors. Or whatever issue the congregation was facing, these pastors got the blame. Pastors felt isolated, lonely, stressed, and asked to do too much. They were scapegoated for work that the congregation needed to do. The covenant was broken. The trust wasn’t there. One pastor said to me, “Church shouldn’t hurt this much. I thought they had my back but when things got hard I found that their anxiety outpaced their trust for me.”

We move, church, at the speed of trust. We have trust as we’ve been through a lot in these past years. This doesn’t mean we’re not without our problems. In fact, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy, the founders of Adaptive Leadership have this insight into leadership: “When you belong to the organization or community that you are trying to lead, you are part of the problem.”[1]

We humans LOVE to not take responsibility for things. Like how we talk about traffic. “Oh, my word. Traffic here in Medina is just so bad, especially around the Square.” Like we’re not driving around town and adding to the problem.

Or how about, “Man, the internet is just so toxic. People just brag and yell at each other.” Like we’re not a part of it. Like we just didn’t post that well-choreographed shot a half hour ago and then write a poor review or blast someone we disagree with. I mean, so I’ve heard. This is all hypothetically speaking.

Or “Why is there Christmas stuff out in the stores? It’s not even Halloween!” Someone is buying it. The stores don’t put it out unless someone is buying it.

Or “Church is just so boring. I’m not being fed.” Well, when was the last time someone else fed you? Barring that you were in the hospital with two broken arms, maybe the last time was when you were an infant. We are feeding ourselves all the time by taking in stuff of our choosing that entertains us—Netflix, movies, books, pulp culture, what we choose to watch, etc.

We act like we’re not a part of the problem even when we are. This isn’t new. It dates all the way back to Luke 17. The apostles today demand that Jesus “Increase our faith!” Jesus replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Two things about a mustard seed. It’s really small. And it’s regarded as a weed in the first century. An updated reading would be, “If you had faith as small as a dandelion seed, then you could say to an oak, ‘Go jump in Champion Creek,’ and it would obey you.” It doesn’t take much faith to do the impossible. Your tiny faith in something can get amazing things done.

And how do we move mountains? A shovel at a time. Together, with enough faith and vision, we can move mountains by constantly wearing them down and working together and keeping our eyes on the prize. Yet we have pastors resigning, congregations in turmoil, and churches in decline. I think that’s happening because churches do not take responsibility for their culture. We act like we’re not responsible for what happens. But we are. We’re responsible for increasing our own faith. How do we do this? Start small. We start where we are.

Yes, indeed things have changed since many of us started coming to church. There was a time where schools and sports and businesses would close on Sundays and Wednesday nights. We didn’t have 24-hour TV or internet or streaming. We had less pressures on our time then… or did we?

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote about the rapid pace of life and how his church was complaining about the “absorbed preoccupation” of the young with “Victrolas, radios, typewriters, bicycles, automobiles, and airplanes” in 1937.[2]

Before him, Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to escape the hectic pace of life in 1854. The various hermits, monks, and the Desert Fathers and Mothers dating back to the first century took time to escape. Even Jesus went on retreat and slowed down. The pace of life was always fast. It’s why the Sabbath is a command. We are human beings not human doings. This comes to us from the ancient wisdom of Exodus. Of folks being worked to death with no hope or chance to slow down. They later build a temple to their chain-breaking liberating God of the oppressed using slave labor. Look, community is hard and we constantly miss the point and give into the path of least resistance. Then and now. Don’t believe the lie that yesterday was better than today.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We can choose to live differently. When we look at the world and see all the injustices in the world, we can be easily overwhelmed. The problems seem so big, and we’re so small, we can resign ourselves. Or we can get really fired up to fix these things only to burn out and quickly revert to our current status quo.

What keeps me coming back here is that this community, this space… it’s room for us to name what’s wrong in the world and then practice living the world we want to see. If you’re sick of the division, here’s a place to practice unity. If you’re sick of the resignation to “That’s just how the world is”, here’s a place to resist and find hope. We are here to pray through the gap of what is and what can be. We boldly declare… sometimes idealistically, I want to see more love and kindness and justice in the world! I want to become more like this! Then we practice that and form ourselves spiritually toward those ends.

Often times, we don’t know what we’re forming into, just that we’re different walking out of here than when we walked in. We don’t have a name for it, but it’s felt. It doesn’t take much. When you look back do you realize that… hey.. wait… didn’t that tree used to be over there? Wasn’t that mountain, like way over there?

If you’re sick of something in the world, let’s practice a better world here. We don’t have to be resigned to the social ills of the world. The issues that drive you nuts… those are actually within you. When the pandemic hit and there was political nonsense coming from every corner, I made the choice to get hyper local. I hate the political division of this country. Yet I’m also a part of that. So instead of railing against Fauci or Dr. Acton, I listened to the medical professionals in our congregation. We have folks in our community working at the hospital and the board of health. I listened to them and trusted them. They got us through with the leadership of Maureen, Julie, Matt, and Dan, our moderators at that time.

I have this friend who has a deep distrust of the government and feels everyone is lying to him. I ask him who is he referring to? He answers back, the NIH, Fauci, big pharma, the government… I encourage him to go talk to the mayor of his town. His county board of health. Talk with his doctor. Get local. Really local. All the really big stuff can be broken down and worked on here. All the social ills of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the other ills… I first work to discover those within me. Then I work out how to live better with you all. And with you, we work together here locally to build a better world. We can’t affect Washington immediately. We can practice it here.

Part of this work is gathering and praying and worshipping and awaiting a word for God. Just like the Prophet Habakkuk’s complaint today. “How long, Lord, must I call for help? I cry ‘Violence!’ but you do nothing. Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? The law is paralyzed and justice never prevails.”

The prophet stations himself and waits for God’s answer. I love the reply from God. “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it… Though it lingers, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

Write down the revelation. Make it plain. So here it is: All that you’re facing. All the stuff that drives you batty: It’s all within you. Don’t forget your agency. If you’re part of the organization, you’re part of the problem. As a citizen of this country. As a member of your race. As a person with an orientation and gender expression. We are a communion of sinners. We get it wrong because we’re often looking past one another and acting like we don’t have responsibility for the way things are.

Let’s take responsibility, together. Here are some things that will not be tolerated in our community. Anonymous feedback. As part of the covenant, we use names. If you have a concern, name it. Put your name on it. That way as we work to address the problem, we can check in and see if progress is being made. We also don’t say, “Well, others are saying this…” That’s polling, and it’s the same toxic idea as anonymous feedback. Send them to me or a moderator so we can understand the nature of the concern and keep checking back in.

If we aren’t voicing our truth within the bounds of our council or teams, then nothing gets done. We are strong because we checked in with one another, we kept good boundaries, and we held steady. We listened to those with the knowledge among us and kept checking in. We didn’t resign ourselves to mistrust, helplessness, and toxic behavior. We’re better for it. While we’re not perfect, trust is the currency of communities. Trust is only built through open and honest communication that builds trust that moves communities toward the beloved community of Christ.

With just a small amount of faith, we’ve saved the bell, done great work, added to our community and made some great hires. We have done some amazing work. We’ve retained our amazing staff and our members. Look what a dandelion seed faith can do! If there is a conversation you’re yearning to have. If you have a question or a curiosity that you want to follow, that’s the nudge of that dandelion seed faith that can move mountains. Let’s talk. For when two or three are gathered in Jesus name, he is there. Thanks be to God! Amen!

Works Cited

[1] Leadership on the Line, page 90.

[2] Successful Christian Living, page 65 and 67.

Want to hear more..?

In the Robcast from 9/21 entitled Hope Part 1, theologian Rob Bell talks about how we influence everything… Grocery stores and traffic are two examples. GOOSE BUMPS. I had not heard this prior but two buddies have pointed out how similar and entwined my sermon and this podcast are. Check it out here.

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