Tag Archives: development

Will people grow up before the church gets wrecked?: Eliza’s question and Janet’s answer

Eliza wins a Pulitzer Prize

A few days ago I was talking to Eliza Griswold. She is writing a book about Circle of Hope — along with other churches on our wavelength and the future of the Church in general. She was recording me.

When we got to the part about turmoil in our church (there is a little), which makes for a better book, after all,  and turmoil in the larger Church (there is quite a bit), I looked at the phone for a second. “Am I going to say something dumb?”

I took a deep breath. Our turmoil is all for the best. Most of the controversies we face are about causes that should cause turmoil. Some of them are either over the tipping point or about to go over the tipping point into full scale change, which would be worth a lot of trouble. For instance, a school in Virginia just got a name change from Robert E. Lee to John Lewis last week – so things could be looking up (and I mean looking “as God sees things” in the case of that school, not IMO).

Eliza lamented in her inquisitive way about some of the strident discourse she was hearing in our church. It scared her, since she is well acquainted with church controversy. She tagged the young ones as responsible for most of it, I think (I didn’t record her). And the phrase “social justice warriors” seems like it was used, although I’m not sure either of us said it. The angry-sounding, division-threatening dialogue made her wonder if we would even survive! So she wanted to hear what an old head like me would say about it.

I told her (I guess she could check the tape about this) I thought old people should be the last to judge the young. My job is to help everyone get into a sustainable stage in their faith so they are not run over by the deceitful world – otherwise, what is the point of walking with Jesus for 50 years — so young people can look dumb in comparison? People don’t start where they end up, even if they think where they are now is a fine achievement. I want to affirm their achievements and help them get into what is next, since none of us is going to stop developing, in one way or another. It was something like that.

Janet Hagberg and her inspiring books

Janet Hagberg

Janet Hagberg is all about development and she has been influencing me again, lately.

When I was in my twenties I heard Janet Hagberg speak. As I recall, she was testing out some material she was collecting for how to implement James Fowler’s seminal work on the Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Later on I read Hagberg’s book Real Power and it made so much difference to me, I basically installed it in Circle of Hope. I was so impressed with Real Power, I went back and read James Fowler, the basis, which was tough but productive sledding. After that, I laced the “stages of faith” into most of my thinking about growing in faith: I put it in workshops, I blogged about it, and I engineered a version of it, with the pastors, that became the outline for the  Way of Jesus site – when you go to it you’ll see me ready to talk about the stages of faith right there on the intro page.

Just lately, I found a book that had been languishing on my selves for a long time, undiscovered, until I took it out of a packing box to reshelve it. It was Hagberg’s book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. God drew her into a deeper rendition of Real Power later on in life. Real Power was for the corporate world; and though spirituality is present, it isn’t focused on Jesus, per se. The Critical Journey is for Jesus followers (and anyone who wants to follow along with them). I think she might say this book “ruined her life” – at least it “ruined” the previous life that was headed for success in the corporate world.

Instead, Hagberg became a spiritual director and a mentor to many disciples. Last week I wrote to her with a question about the spiritual stages inventory in her book and she wrote back! That was unexpected, as it always is for me when a hero notices me. (That desire to be seen might be why I always get so choked up when cast members in the Disney parade break ranks to come over and wish my grandchild a “magical birthday”). I am pondering whether to accept her invitation to travel with a small group she is forming for next year as a means for spiritual development.

Time to grow and time for social action

I was fresh from reading The Critical Journey when I sat in the heat with Eliza (who has a Wikipedia page BTW). And she was wondering about what twentysomethings would do to the church. I started formulating my feelings into a theory in their defense.

I think young people should get involved with the power struggles of the world to express their undeserved powerlessness (stage one) and fully explore the energizing experiences of exercising power in stage two. Many derisively-labeled “social justice warriors” are criticized for being one-way know-it-alls who will cancel someone who does not agree with them. People do dumb stuff at every stage of life. I think stage two people often act like they know it all because they just learned a huge amount of meaningful material that is forming their future. Unlike a lot of burned out old people, they think life is important and they are going to make something out of it. Any twenty-something who is not on some bandwagon in the name of great causes should catch up. Their cohort is fueling some wonderful development in themselves and the world, whether they know what they are doing or not!

The observations of the stages of faith usually place most twentysomethings in stage two of their adult development, as humans, but also as people of faith.

  • One of the main characteristics of people in stage two (whenever they get there) is finding meaning in belonging. They may like a denominational way of being the church, but they are more likely to attach to a local church, and even within that church they are most likely to find a small group of people to whom they belong. Pastors may not like this, but that’s how people are. The group shapes our identity, we find power in association with others.
  • No one comes out fully formed, so in stage two people connect to a leader, a system or a cause, sometimes many before they zero in. The sense of enlightenment from sharing the leader’s/author’s/system’s wisdom is intoxicating. The same experience can be found by having a cause be the leader and not a person. A sense of being right, now that they have found the right stuff, often breeds a feeling of security –- which can sometimes come off as too secure, and exclusive of others who aren’t at the same place, or stage.

Calling something a stage implies that we are moving through it. Thus Hagberg calls our development a critical “journey.” People can get stuck in stage two for a number of reasons. The major reasons are

  • They get rigid: legalistic and moralistic. When someone complains about getting taken out by a “my way or the highway” SJW I can acknowledge the danger of people acting that way, but I am just so happy they have gotten far enough in life to find something outside themselves to care about! Audacity is underrated.
  • A sense of belonging can end up with being part of a closed, paranoid, “us against them” group. America, in general seems to have regressed into this trap,
  • A group can end up not being as attractive as expected so people can keep switching groups and doing the same thing over and over. They don’t move forward, just move around.
  • People who have been injured in groups, especially in churches, can spend a lifetime searching for a group that won’t hurt them. They need to move inward — that was the invitation when the leader, group or theory proved faulty, instead they blame the group and move on to have a similar experience, quite often, in the next one.

How does one avoid getting stuck in stage 2 or get unstuck? Moving on usually means becoming a producer instead of a product. When it comes to life in Christ, that movement is sort of inevitable. People joke that if you have a good idea in Circle of Hope, you’ll probably end up in charge of it. That’s not necessarily so, but maybe it should be. We formed cells and teams so people could be in charge of something and grow up in faith. Jesus wants friends, not slaves who only do what they’re told. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us not to be infants, but grow up into Christ!

A lot of us find this need for development satisfied at work and in our own family. That’s where we take on responsibility and produce something – like offspring, a mortgage and profits for the company. The movement from Stage 2 to 3 in the Spirit is deeper. Women risk to be valuable. So-called minorities insist they matter and deserve a voice in  the dialogue. Young people seek responsibility the old guard thinks they don’t deserve. We discover our gifts and are moved to enact them. We rejoice in the fact that we can develop and become all we are called to be.

I rejoice. I vividly remember being in stage two. At that time in my life, a 70something elder in the church I was serving took me aside one day and said, “Rod, you have great ideas, but you have terrible PR.” He went on. I listened to him. But I essentially thought, “The hell with PR! I don’t see Jesus taking cues from his media advisors!” I was right, but I later realized that I wanted to build something, not spend my life rebelling against what someone else built. I got some new skills, eventually. I’m still grateful for people like Janet Hagberg and that fed-up elder who cared enough to open up the possibility of development in critical ways — in both the positive and negative senses of that word.

The Development Pastor at One Year

dancingI wrote about Rachel at one month. I got excited about Julie and Jerome at one month. But I have not said too much about myself as I have been moving through this interesting transition year. Someone wondered why. So here I am. I’m almost a year into being the “Development Pastor.” I’m telling some of my own story.

My new role feels a bit like my village was raided and we needed to move — it is more of a transition than I expected! It is life-changing, but it is also life-affirming, in the sense that a lot of what God gave me along the way is like a tool chest for this new territory.

No, I did not retire

I went to the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ in July (like I have every other year for decades) and must have been asked twenty times, “How is retirement?” I’m shaking my head as I write. Retirement?!

I might have said, “I wish retirement!” (since 60somethings supposedly thirst for it), but I don’t wish.

My new role in the church is less hands on and supposedly less time (not yet, really), but it is no less an occupation to which I feel called and fully deployed. I actually started another part-time profession when I began to apply my new doctorate to psychotherapy in Circle Counseling’s new digs at 1226 S. Broad St. So I won’t be retiring any time soon.

That is odd.

It is odd for the founding pastor of a church to step away and let his descendants take over. Usually, they wheel him out in a coffin or wheel him into a fancy office where he can keep looking like he presides over everything. Or, if that doesn’t work out, he just disappears and leaves the future of the church to “whatever.” I think many people think disappearing is more normal than transitioning to another role in the body—fired, tired or expired, you are supposed to go.

But last week Gwen and I sat in our usual spot at the South Broad Sunday meeting — we still like it right up front. But that is as close to “up front” as I got. I have been asked several times if taking a back seat feels sad for me. I must miss giving speeches. Or worse, I must feel disappeared, since, in the past, people came to see me like I was an episode of The Big Bang Theory and now there is a crime drama at that time so they are into crime drama and forgot The Big Bang. A lot of pastors do disappear when they are not in front every week. It is actually sort of pastor protocol for them to not infect the career of their successors. Instead, I was sitting next to Rachel last week.

I don’t miss it that much.  I never really thought being “up front” was the heart of my leadership, anyway —  I never found myself in the footlights, I guess. And Circle of Hope is more of a tribe than a production company, anyway, so I grew into another role. That feels right to me. I am still a member of the tribe; I’m just doing something else that fits where I am and where we are now. I suppose it does seem odd that our employees are not mere interchangeable parts we could order out of a catalog, but that’s how we are.

What do you do now?

One of the Coordinators asked this question the other day even though I report to them every week. I think I have been predictable so long it is unnerving to let me change, “If you are not that, what could you possibly be?” Sometimes I feel like that too. We’re all getting a handle on it. I think of what I do now as all about the future.  Circle of Hope has an amazing identity and a wonderful community. I am all about developing us to take who we are and move it into the future God is laying out for us as a whole church. We are a much bigger deal than we used to be and we have a bigger responsibility to develop and use what we have been given. I think the world and the church needs us to be deep, conscientious and strong.

The three big titles in the description of what I do are Formation, Teaching, and Development.

  • Formation is about spiritual and psychological health – I try to give the church tools (like Daily Prayer and the Way of Jesus), but mostly this is about personal counseling, mentoring and spiritual direction.
  • Teaching is more obvious – sometimes I am back up front, but all over the church in the Sunday meetings and training times. I invent and organize Gifts for Growing (like the 30something Retreat and Doing Theology coming up). I write like this.
  • Development is the largest area right now – we have new systems to use to build our institution and we have new needs to face as we grow. I’m into developing all the systems and facing the needs. I help the Leadership Team grow (that’s my main team). I often deal with conflict and goal setting. I help with the practical matters of moving over the edge into new territory. Somebody noticed that it was nice to have “your very own older person” around — things happen when you are out on the edge.

What is our edge?

What the church has done with me and how we are multiplying a congregation right now is so remarkable people have a hard time understanding it. I love how we can take risks and let the Spirit empower us and save us. If you are not excited about that, I think you ought to be. You are edgy. But there are further places to move.

I think we are going to go against the grain of the Northeast’s spiritual devolution and keep church planting. Plus, like our Map says this year, I think we are going to create a mutuality web that is the antidote to the soul-crushing individualism being written into law in the United States. What’s more, I think our new ideas for “good business” are going to start a very practical expression of our creativity. Those are the first things that come to mind.

What about teens? What about urban parenting? What about school care? What about finding a voice for alternativity? What about art? Climate change? There is a lot going on, and there should be. It is a challenging era to be a Jesus follower and we have been given a lot to contribute to the Lord’s cause.

What gives you strength?

I’ve had several conversations that pointed this out to me this week. I realized that my capacity is all learned. I have some native ability to do what I do, of course. But most of what I need has been an acquisition, a gift received, not an inner discovery.

  • Simplicity – My money is a tool. My success does not define me. Life is what I am living. I stick with my calling.
  • Centered prayer – Silence and contemplation are essential. Being with Jesus all day is a joy.
  • Teaming – I don’t do anything alone. Relationships of love are how the best things get done. I am a covenant member of the body of Christ.
  • Focus on goals – I like getting things done and I will risk failure to do them. I try to keep it simple and determine to do what I can actually accomplish. I am not a perfectionist. Thinking and acting ahead is important.
  • Reading widely (and yes FB and Twitter) – Nothing much is new under the sun, I may just not know it yet. I think the art of repurposing is more important than invention most of the time. Humility and foolishness lead to good things; I listen from that vantage point.

What will be new?

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable after writing all this about myself. Presuming that someone is interested in me is not in my inner script. But I got to the end of it so the curious would feel more secure about what is happening in their church. It is odd. The new me is kind of odd, I guess. But I hope the change is very good. I am not sure what will happen, but a few things are coming into focus:

  • I hope my next ten years are full of children: spiritual children, grandchildren, and other people’s children.
  • I am going to enjoy letting go of our “2nd act” structures, once they can all walk —many of our innovations are still babies.
  • I intend to do more psychotherapy and spiritual direction.
  • I already write more.
  • I expect to teach more in the Hallowood Institute Gwen is founding, as well as throughout Circle of Hope.
  • I will apply myself to whatever I am given by God as I have always tried to do.
  • And, of course, Circle of Hope will be new. It is changing right now before our very eyes. Like I said, I actually feel a bit uprooted from the pleasant valley we used to live in. But I look forward to what will become of this much larger place into which we have entered. Much of it is unexplored, but what I have seen is beautiful! I look forward to what it becomes in much the same way I wonder if the baby’s eyes will stay blue — it is yet to be revealed but a sweet anticipation.

New developments

Development is hard. For instance: The crew and I, led by the devoted foreman Ben Blei, are in the last throes of finishing the project down the street at 1226 S. Broad. All the details we missed are becoming evident. All the last-minute demands to meet the deadlines are irritating us. Relationships that need to work, but don’t work that well, are becoming obvious. Our limitations are also becoming obvious. There are a lot of problems associated with developing an old abandoned building. There are good reasons people don’t take on big projects like that.

As I was writing that line, someone emailed and told me they were as good as an abandoned building and God started developing them! But they had some good reasons why they did not want to get with that program: details, demands, relationship issues, limitations, etc, etc. It is exciting whenever I hear about someone who is in the throes of developing faith! Because the main development project people resist taking on is themselves.

That kinds of sums up the focus of my new job. I’m now the “development pastor.” It is a big idea for a job description, in that I am going to get practical about how we get from here to there as the whole church, Circle of Hope. But it is also a very small idea, in that I am going to have more time to be devoted to individuals, especially the leaders, as they move into their future in Christ.

I am excited. I even renamed this blog to make that clear!

I need to develop and I want to help others develop

That’s probably the same as you – we’re on the same team after all. I just get to lead in it. We all need to develop — we’re doing it one way of another. I want to follow Christ into my fullness.

To develop in Christ means one has some kind of experiential knowledge of spiritual things that moves them to action — not just book knowledge, or secondhand knowledge or even Circle of Hope knowledge. You know God and that relationship is developing. I first learned this when I finally read the Bible and saw in Romans 8 that people who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. In all our talk about our “second act” we have been devoted to risking that the people of our church will be led by the Spirit: we’re trusting Christ to be at work in all of us; we’re trusting each other to keep developing as people in Christ and to resist settling into some placeholder life.

The last time I spoke in a Sunday meeting I offered three basic things we all need to hold on to if we are going to keep developing as individuals in Christ and keep developing as the Lord’s church. Let me briefly list them again.

  • Take incarnation seriously

The finite manifests the infinite, the physical is the doorway to the spiritual — like Jesus the incarnate Son of God is our way to eternity. This is the way to that. There are not sacred and profane places or moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places and moments. Christ in YOU is the hope of glory. Christ in US makes us the incarnation of the Lord in the here and now. To develop, take that honor seriously. You and we are important, no matter what voice inside or big power from outside tells us.

love tatoo

Continue reading New developments

Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #6

In September of 2012 I tried to encourage people to change when change was upon them, not hold on to their past and die off, spiritually.

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes whisper, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like I am losing faith or am destined for faith mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t move me anymore? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department. He is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, emotionally cut off, and isolated from his colleagues at work. In a strange turn of events, his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheikh and the sheikh’s sexy wealth-manager. Things begin to change. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own transformation.

Continue reading Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

What if I don’t feel God anymore?: Ewan McGregor on spiritual development

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes surreptitiously ask: “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like a mundane Christian destined for mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t anymore? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

Ewan McGregor’s development parable

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department who is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, and emotionally cut off from relationships with his colleagues. When his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheik and the sheik’s wealth-managing, sexy assistant, things begin to transform. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own change.

The movie is a somewhat odd story about getting salmon to thrive and reproduce in the Yemeni desert. At one crucial point, they have created a lake and a fish ladder and they have stocked the lake with farm-bred salmon (because the wild fish were too precious for enthusiasts to part with). The farm-bred fish are like Ewan McGregor: staid and stuck in a holding tank. Ewan has sat in his cubicle for a long time not really doing anything; he has sat in his depressing marriage not having children and not really making love. The question about these farm-bred salmon is: will they swim upstream, as salmon instinctively must do to reproduce?

As with all good parables, you are already asking the question: “Will I?” What about my development?

will they develop?They tensely watch from the dam and are sure their whole, huge experiment is a bust. But right when they are ready to give up, one salmon leaps out of the water and soon all of them are turning around and getting up the ladder and up the stream. Excitement ensues.

But then something horrible happens. Just like Ewan experienced in the middle of his new project when his wife decided to leave him, some person who thinks the sheik is a liberal threat to Yemeni culture blows up the dam and most of the fish are left high and dry. Just a little creek is left of the water project. They are sure all is lost. Ewan does not know what to do. But as he despondently looks over the project, one lone, surviving fish leaps in the air. They were not all killed! A lot died, but something new hung on. Their previous idea for the water project was still in pieces, but a new and better result sprang up from ruins of their work.

Ewan felt like a dried up scientist destined for the mundane. He tried something new and it didn’t work just right and he did not know what to do. Something unexpected took place as a result of him taking some initiative. He endured the loss of what was and entered into what is next.

If you don’t feel God, that is probably what is happening to you.

First of all, no one can really answer the questions, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” because you are precious you. One size does not fit all when it comes to faith.

Second of all, I have some ideas about what might be going on. Don’t give up!

1)  Your childhood faith might be wearing out. It usually needs to move from head to heart.

I use the running the bases chart to talk about how we know God. It implies that we are always developing. That is a good thing, even though it includes feeling the uncertainty of moving further and the loss of standing safely on a base. The “game” is ongoing.

A lot of Christians only get to first base when it comes to understanding God. They have kind of a teenager faith. Many people come to faith when they are teenagers and they never get much farther than their original understanding. If you don’t experience the presence of God, maybe God moved on and you stopped following!

Old feelings pass away, but deeper feelings are in store. Spiritual “feelings” that are deeper than the reactions we learned in childhood are being developed in our much larger and deeper new eternal family.

2) You are going through a change of season and you need some new disciplines.

Just think about what is the center of having a “first base” faith in Jesus: knowing the Bible. It is quite a feat to achieve a basic understanding of what Jesus is talking about, much more to feel secure about the way you are going to do the word.  It takes a lot of concentration to just get started. It might be tempting to stay on the first base of faith, or second, or wherever you are, even though that season of development is over.

In the case of reading the Bible, spiritual development can’t stay at the level of merely understanding concepts. For instance, the Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. From reading the Bible we gain a collection of basic approaches to laying a personal, spiritual foundation that must accompany our reading. Meditating on the Bible saturates us with the truth and love that is revealed. We’re not just reading the words, we are responding to God and forming our relationship.

If that relationship does not keep changing and growing, something is stuck. In a new season we are called to run the bases at a deeper level. Our original idea of what they meant, as good as it might have been, turns out to have something deeper behind it.

3) You are experiencing psychological development

In our relationships with God we are always working on basic trust. We develop in the Spirit a lot like children develop in their families. Rather than milk we need solid food. Eventually, we need to develop agency. We have to endure losses and become adult. What doesn’t kill us helps us grow, it is said, and that is mostly true.

If you are wondering why you don’t feel God, it could be depression or anxiety talking. These symptoms are “friends” that alert us to deeper things happening in our souls. They may not feel like friends, but they are signposts of change. The uncomfortable feelings we often prefer to avoid are actually important to our spiritual development. The destruction of dams we thought should never be blown up often results in something better we never could have predicted.

Close relationships and young marriages often go through a lot of anger and hurt as the partners push one another to develop. When children are added to a family they push people farther. Losing one’s job or losing a loved one calls us to become deeper, to trust God. We need to listen to our anger, listen to the sadness and other feelings behind it and find out what it developing. Let’s not merely fight, flee or freeze in a self-defeating way, our typical way, the old way. Jesus is a new way.

Thinking over a parable, reading this blog post, relating to what is said, trying to stay open to God (even if you think your relationship is in a holding tank that feels less than fresh), are all ways to start moving in a new direction. You have spiritual instincts that are always ready to kick in. Let them leap.

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