01 July 2008

Certainty and control

I concluded a recent post with the following question: If I feel that God is calling me and/or my community (present or future) to emerge into a radically different way of being and doing Church, what am I willing to lose?

You may ask, "So, Mr. Rude Armchair, exactly what do you suppose this rhetorical 'I' might have to give up?" (No-one did ask, truth be told, but in my benevolence I'll tell you anyway.)

I think a lot of the answer boils down to two things (which may actually be one thing): certainty and control. But that works itself out very differently for folks with different stories. For a lot of folks from a more evangelical background, the biggest difference in the "postmodern" or "emerging" space is the letting go of certainty regarding our "perfect" understanding of matters of doctrine. This shift can be extremely stressful, as is obvious from the history of the emerging church conversation.

And for folks from all over the established church (but especially, I think, folks like me from a more "mainline" background), the biggest difference might be a letting go of certainty and control regarding matters of church structure, polity (church leadership), and career-related issues. Postmodern folk are frequently no too keen on stuff like hierarchy, positional authority, lay/clergy divides, and regularly scheduled stewardship beg-a-thons that are necessary to fund a model where professional clergy make 100% of their living from their job as a pastor, priest, bishop, apostle, or whatnot.

This means that if you are one of those professional clergy, and you feel called to move in an an "emergent" direction, then I honestly feel that one of the questions you must ask yourself is, "how will I feed my family and pay the mortgage?" Because the traditional answer, "From my church paycheck, of course", is going to be less and less tenable in an emerging context. I know many people who have unhappily discovered this.

There are many ways to creatively answer this question, even for folks who feel like they have no other marketable skills than those of a pastor. (I guess that's one good aspect to traditional churches expecting pastors to be omnigifted - pastors need to be able to do all kinds of things, many of which can be sources of secular income.) And there are ways for couples and communities to plan creative ways to make sure that everyone gets by - smplicity, sharing (Acts 2), entrepreurial ventures, etc.

I would also go so far as to give this advice to folks feeling the call to ministry in an emergent context, but doing something completely different now: don't plan to go to seminary, get ordained (if that's something they do in your tradition), and then expect to support your family going forward on a pastor's salary at an emerging church. I'm not saying that's impossible - it's entirely possible - but I am saying that it's hard, and will (I believe) get harder as more people step out into the wild, uncertain freedom that is emerging.

As much as I suspect that failure might be a necessary step in emergence, don't set yourself up for that kind of failure, that "OMG, my whole plan for supporting my family is totally not working - now what do I do?" kind of failure. Yes, if you step out into the land of uncertainty and having to find creative solutions to such problems, you run the risk of that very thing happening anyway - but I think it's important to expect it, as opposed to expecting that a traditional church structure, a traditional pastor's role, a full-time paycheck, etc. are a certainty, and that you can control the emergence of your community in such a way as to gaurantee the viability of those things.

So what do you get when you give up certainty and control? You get things like freedom, risk, constant change, and hope. It's not a simple either/or, of course, but it's important, I think, to pray hard about what sort of context God is calling us to.

photo by sgs_1019 (rights)


spankey said...

you know mike i go back and forth on this A LOT! as one who did go to seminary and has been ordained but fancies himself emergent this issue is HUGE for me.

currently our locally and denominationally defined community - mainline and rigid as it is - is working to move beyond ourselves and offer a way of being a locally defined group of Jesus followers - loosy goosy and open as it might be.

this will not be easy. from what i read out there it rarely works - mother church can't give up control or daughter community either relies so heavily as to drain or fights so hard as to burn bridges.

but i digress - what i keep coming back to is that here - in my context of south alabama - people still want a safety net and in this context that safety net is someone who's been to seminary and can steer the community, its conversation, and is administration.

will that mean a full-time paid staff member - maybe/maybe not - but it does seem to call for someone who has a degree and can spend a fair amount of time reading, making phone calls, and caring for the larger group.

does this make any sense?

still i have to wonder if the church pension group will honor a non-stipendiary position as "years served" because i do feel as though someday that will be my role in a community while i make tents on the side.

Mike Croghan said...

Hi Steve,

Yeah, I hear ya, and I know a bunch of folks who are making something very much like the traditional clerical career track work within a genuinely emerging context - as you note, contexts vary, and in some this is entirely appropriate. The only thing I'm trying to caution folks against is going into that track *assuming* that it's always going to be there, and that they'll never need a Plan B. I also know a bunch of folks who have found themselves called (or "got resigned") out of that track, and felt like, "But 'Pastor' is the only thing I know how to do - I went to college for it; it's supposed to be my career, and the way we support our family - now what?" It's not bad to get the seminary degree, or even to start down that track - but for folks called in emerging directions, I think it's vital to also think seriously about alternative plans (like you are doing).