Friday, November 1, 2013

Young Leaders

I'm spending the weekend at an ELCA youth leadership retreat.  Teenagers from across the country have gathered around three questions:

  1. How am I experiencing or seeing God's presence?
  2. What is God calling me to?
  3. How will I respond?
The group was visited this evening by Bishop Brian Maas of the Nebraska Synod.  He spoke about innovative leadership and invited the young people to wrestle with another question: "what does leadership look like in the church?"  He referenced Everett Rogers' technology adoption lifecycle and Geoffrey Moore's adaptation, which produced this chart:

Bishop Maas made a strong case for why church leaders aren't called to be innovators or even early adopters, rather leaders are called into the chasm.  He certainly piqued my interest in the topic.  One of the questions I will continue to wrestle with is who are these leaders?  Are they pastors?  Lay staff?  Volunteers?  Church councils?  Consultants?  Elders?  Youth?  Furthermore, do our congregations want pastors who will bridge the gap between the 15% and the 85%?  

Patrick Scriven, blogging for the Pacific Northwest Methodist Conference, doesn't think the church needs more innovative pastors.  I'm curious to know what you think.  

In the meantime, I'm excited to have the rest of the weekend to keep learning from the young people at this leadership retreat.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Counting the Costs

A group of college students came over to my house for dinner on Sunday night.  This was one of the last church events for students who are soon heading off to institutions of higher learning.  For many of these young people, the decision to attend college is a foregone conclusion...merely the obvious next step in their journey toward becoming productive members of society.  Most of them will receive financial support for their education, but almost all of them will graduate with much larger debt than their parents.  

It's no secret that the cost of education is more expensive for this generation than for previous generations.  We know that the rate of inflation is much more gradual than the rate of increases for colleges.  For example, the minimum wage in 1983 was $3.35/hour and the average college tuition was just under $1,800.  Today, the minimum wage is $7.25 and the average cost for tuition is just over $12,000.

For a student to "work their way through college" in 1983, they would need to crank out about 530 hours flipping burgers or stocking shelves each year.  A 40 hour work week in the summer months would nearly cover the total cost of tuition without any need for scholarships, financial aid, work study, or parental assistance.  Students today face a different reality.  A young person needs to work 2,480 minimum wage hours to pay for tuition; 4.5 times as many hours as their counterparts in the early 1980's.  

This extends to the church world as well.  In order for someone to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that person needs to receive a Masters of Divinity through a seminary, which is typically a four-year process.  Yesterday, Bishop Michael Rinehart posted these numbers on the ELCA Facebook page:
Factoid: Full-time tuition for a masters degree student this academic year at Luther [Seminary] was $15,000. Single students pay nearly $32,870 annually when tuition, room, board, books, insurance and other educational expenses are added together. 69% of seminary graduates have educational loans, averaging over $42,279.

The minimum base salary for a pastor in the Southeastern Iowa Synod is $33,625 (each synod has a slightly different number)...and the average seminary graduate carries $42,279 in educational loans.  Something is out of balance in this scenario.

I wonder if this entire education/seminary/ordination system is reaching the breaking point, if for no other reason than the financial burden it places on its pastors.  If we (the church) don't feel the need to change things, how much greater does this disparity need to be until the whole thing implodes?   I see and hear a lot of hand-wringing among seminary faculty, synod staff, clergy, and lay leaders about the cost of ordination, but all of us are short on realistic solutions to this growing problem.

Maybe there's a koinonia reader out there who is inspired to offer their suggestions.  Feel free to weigh in on the comments section or through Facebook/Twitter, if you prefer.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Things I Love About My Church #2

I've been on the staff at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church for over nine years.  There's a lot of cool stuff about this church, and though I can't possibly share all that's great about WHLC, I'd like to blog about a few of my favorite things.  For example...

Helping Hands

It's a bizarre experience to arrive on the scene of a disaster.  All routines, patterns, and assumptions are discarded and replaced by a new reality.  Anyone who has watched helplessly as a house burns to the ground or as a building is demolished by high winds knows how this feels.

I had a similar circumstance, though on a smaller scale, this past Saturday when I walked into the lower level at church.  "Is that water in the hallway?" my daughter asked.  It was indeed.  A lot of water.  Several thousand gallons of water had poured out of a broken water line on the third story and was spreading throughout the church.  All three levels experienced water damage, including carpeting, ceiling tiles, and walls.  Affected rooms included the narthex, fellowship hall, classrooms, and Sanctuary.  It was a mess.

After turning off the water, I made a few phone calls to the pastor and property committee members.  Mitigation professionals came to remove the water and discard soiled carpet...but there was still a lot of work that needed to be done in order to "prepare the way" for Palm Sunday.  Items needed to be sorted and either disposed of or moved to a dry location.  Equipment and furniture had to be relocated.  Temporary flooring needed to be put in place.

A few more phone calls yielded additional people.  Kiersten (age 5) said it best, when she told her older brother, "We need to go help.  If our house had flooded our church friends would be here to help us!"

People of all ages worked throughout the afternoon and late into the night and made it possible for worship to happen the following day.  It was a day that was both heartbreaking and redeeming.  As people responded with patience and generosity throughout the weekend, I was reminded of the myriad ways God's Spirit works through people to make the best of a bad situation.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


It's been a while since I've written anything in this space.  This happens frequently.  Here are the ten things that happen during a writing lapse:
  1. Clever thought enters brain
  2. Fingers begin typing
  3. Brain and fingers have disagreement
  4. #%$&*@!
  5. Writing resumes for 5 minutes
  6. Writing ceases
  7. Temper tantrum
  8. Blog post deleted
  9. Self-loathing
  10. Repeat #1-9
Maybe this time will be different...

* * *

We in the church like to talk about vocation - a word that comes from the Latin vocātiō which means "call" or "summons."  When discussing vocation Lutherans are fond of telling a story that goes something like this:

A shoe maker asked Martin Luther how to best serve God.  Luther asked him "What is your work now?"  The man replied "I am a shoemaker."  Luther told him "Make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price."  

It's a lovely story which conveys the notion that people serve the Lord when they use their God-given gifts in ways that are good and honest.  In this way, vocation is the pairing of a person's abilities and interests with the needs of the community.  

A similar sentiment was expressed (sarcastically and with a few naughty words) in The Onion last week: need to find the one interest or activity that truly fulfills you in ways nothing else can. Then, really immerse yourself in it for a few fleeting moments after an exhausting 10-hour day at a desk job and an excruciating 65-minute commute home. During nights when all you really want to do is lie down and shut your eyes for a few precious hours before you have to drag yourself out of bed for work the next morning, or on weekends when your friends want to hang out and you’re dying to just lie on your couch and watch TV because you’re too fatigued to even think straight—these are the times when you need to do what you enjoy most in life.

Vocātiō seems like a simple concept - serve God by doing what you love.  Yet all around I feel the anguish of people who find this to be unattainable.  There's the teenager who feels compelled to get good grades so he can go to a good college so he can get a job that pays well enough for him to service the six-figure college debt he will rack up.  There's the college student who changed her major because there wasn't enough job security in what she was passionate about.  And there's the young GenXer who can neither imagine working for the same company another year (let alone 30) nor imagine taking the risk of changing careers.

Certainly there are many examples of people who have stepped out in faith to serve God and humankind through their vocation.  There are also people who haven't made a monumental change in their profession, but have modified the way they approach the work they are currently doing.  I wonder how the church - it's people and it's institutional structures - can better encourage God's people to see their work as prayer each day.

Have you witnessed people in your life who live out their vocation?  How might you serve God through your "ordinary" job?