Tag Archives: #ethical

An important diagnostic for us, and a gentle challenge for our churches

When I meet ministers or visit a new church, I have three questions that give me an immediate insight into the leadership, direction and culture of that church. These questions aren’t designed to give me ammunition, they are purely to give me insight. That’s the beauty of diagnostic questions – they reveal the state of play. There is no moral weighting attached to the answer, it’s just to establish fact.

The first question is “What is your theology?” This is to make sure I’m going to get good, bible-based teaching. This does not query quality, just foundation. I need to make sure the church is founded on Reformed Evangelical theology.

The second question is “Who is in charge of pastoral care?”. If the answer is “Everyone” that may sound good, but is actually concerning to me. Because if everyone is in charge of pastoral care, then nobody is. Pastoral care needs to be headed up by a minister (paid or lay minister doesn’t matter, as long as it’s one person with responsibility and authority). Someone needs to have overall oversight to make sure pastoral care is a) happening, b) is happening effectively, c) is proactive and not reactive and c) that ensures that the people doing the pastoral care are trained and coached and supported and have the resources they need.

If pastoral care has no minister in charge or proactive leadership, if pastoral care is delegated to small group leaders, this is a concern. Small group leaders and congregational leaders will undoubtedly do most of the care, but it needs to be led by a minister. If it isn’t, the message it sends is that pastoral care is not important. That may well not be true, but that’s the message it sends. And if it is not led by a minister, it may not be part of the culture. It may lack focus and direction, it will lack communication and effectiveness. If we want a church where pastoral care is cultural, it is important for us to know who leads this.

As my first gentle challenge to our churches, I would like ministers to know that this is important to us parishioners. I would ask ministers to consider leadership in this area and recognise the perception (and reality?) that if everyone is in charge of pastoral care then nobody is. Maybe it’s time for a stocktake. Are your people really ok? Is the pastoral care proactive? Is it cultural?

My third question may be the most controversial. It is “How much does the church give?” That is not how much do your parishioners give. This question is about how much does the church give – specifically, give away. Now, bear with me on this because it sounds like a desperately unfair question. Our churches barely have enough to keep themselves afloat without giving anything away.

But let’s look at this another way. Generosity is rarely “caught” by being taught. Generosity is usually caught and spread by being modelled. I spoke to a Presbyterian minister in Sydney’s outer suburbs and he answered “We give about 10% That’s not a deliberate number, it just generally adds up to about that.” I spoke to an Anglican minister in Sydney’s inner suburbs and they also give a substantial amount – enough to pay for additional part time member of staff if that’s what they wanted to do. But they don’t. They want to model generosity by donating a part of their parishioner given income to a variety of Christian charities and missions.

It’s also important for church integrity and authenticity. Churches want (and need!) parishioners to give and to give generously and joyfully. Given that that is the case, it feels as though it would be right and proper for the church to also give sacrificially. To ask others to sacrifice, but not do so as an institution feels lacking in generosity. If we are to exercise generosity of spirit, and engender a generous and joyfully giving church, then I would gently challenge churches to start giving.

This is a gentle challenge because I understand the financial pressures that churches face. I believe a challenge is warranted however because the parishioners who are asked to give, are also facing pressures. What would we say to a parishioner who wants to give but feels they can’t because of the financial pressure they are under? First of all – grace. We don’t know a persons (or a church’s) story. But if we would encourage the person to step out in faith and if we would motivate them to give what they could – then I would direct these responses to our churches also.

Churches are under immense financial pressure. But I believe that churches should challenge themselves and step out in faith and give what they can – even starting with a few dollars a week. My apologies to any minister reading this and thinking its patronising. I certainly don’t mean it to be. I also don’t mean it to be remotely judgemental. I am merely describing what is important to me in a church and what (for me) reveals where the heart of a church is. I do not believe that generosity can be delegated to an external body. For example, encouraging people to give directly to CMS or Anglicare or BaptistCare or Compassion does not count. As worthwhile as that is, it is not generosity. Churches cannot abdicate responsibility for generosity. Generosity is a non-delegable duty.

I have noticed that the churches who give away resources, tend to have the strongest cultures of generosity. Because culture comes from the top and if the church gives and models generosity, the people are more likely to give and be generous more quickly, more instinctively, and more joyfully. This doesn’t mean those churches are devoid of financial worries. It’s just a noticeable difference in churches I’ve seen.

For any ministers reading this who’s churches do give, I want to thank you and appreciate you for the sacrifice and the hard choices. If you are a minister reading this and your church has not felt in a position to give, I want to thank you for reading this far! My gentle challenge to you, brothers and sisters, is that this is a step out in faith. But it will be one that throws ripples throughout your church.

If you are a church-goer reading this, these diagnostic questions are important – but they should never be used to judge. That is not our job and it’s not healthy, productive or helpful to point fingers or complain. We need to be gracious and understanding. We need to be proactive, positive and helpful. A church having the capacity to self-reflect on these matters should be nothing but praised and respected.

I also think it is important to ask these questions though. We are sheep and Jesus is our good shepherd. But that doesn’t mean we are mindless followers in our churches. It is important to review where the heart of the church is.

We want our churches to be strong, vibrant and teeming with a generosity of spirit that is so visible to our communities that it is shocking to them – shocking in all the best and most wonderful ways.

Where is the line between venting and gossiping?

What is the difference between venting and gossiping? One can be good and healthy and if done right, can diffuse the tension in a situation. The other can be hurtful and toxic and actually inflame a situation. We know this in life, but the bible tells us in no uncertain terms as well. Bear with me.

Most people would recognise that gossiping is bad. But lets pick this apart because there are two types of gossip – there’s passing on rumours about people or there’s airing grievances about people.

Passing on rumours is talking about people behind their backs. It can betray confidences if it was a secret told to you, or it can just be passing on (and embellishing) a rumour about someone – something that might not even be true. It can destroy people.

Airing grievances is putting our spin on people and events. It builds the tension by ascribing motive and emotion to others. It builds the story. It can be about controlling the narrative. It’s about being validated and feeling right. It can spread like a poison and infect others.

And yet, we all seem to be drawn to do it. Gossip has a special pull. It’s exciting. It’s dramatic. It’s validating. It makes special secret bonds. It makes us feel like we’re “in” or even at the centre of things.

Venting can be good. Some of us can process things internally and so don’t need this. But some of us, in the face of hurts or frustrations or disappointments, need to air them to take the sting out. Without airing them, they can grow resentment within us. We can mull and stew and replay and rehearse in our minds those events. Which means we feel those hurts and disappointments over and over and over again. And that’s what grows a bitter root in your heart.

But where does venting, which can be healthy and useful, tip over into gossip?

The book of James pulls no punches and particularly in this area. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26. Woah.

OK. Here’s what we can do:

1. Recognise that we like to gossip. Just know that as human beings, its something we are drawn to. It’s like admitting the problem is the first step to dealing with it.

2. If you have interactions with people who want to gossip to you or with you, its alright to say that you’re not comfortable to talk about that. Gossip only has power if you give it an open door – shut the door.

3. Be a trustworthy person. If you are told something in confidence, keep it. It’s an exercise in self-control, just like holding in the wee’s when we need to go to the loo. If you feel the need to do a wee, hold it til you get to the bathroom. If you feel the need to share a confidence, hold it in. We are better at self-control than you think. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

4. Put boundaries around your venting. Learn to recognise what is a legitimate airing with the specific purpose of diffusing the hurt and what is you starting to build and inflame the story. If you are the one listening to the venting, its OK for you to put those boundaries up as well – you can be a wise venter and you can be a wise vent-ee. You can give someone air time but gently pull them back in when they are going into gossip territory.

5. Agree with your wise friends to mutually self-check. If you are talking about shared hurts, you can stop and ask “Are we gossiping now?” And if you think you are, or in danger of it, change the subject.

6. When you vent, choose who you vent to wisely. Choose someone who will deal with you lovingly but wisely – don’t deliberately choose someone who will just validate you. We want someone who can help us diffuse the hurt and give us wise advice.

7. Don’t be a poison. None of us mean to be. But we can be. If we gossip rather than vent, we can infect other people with our negative emotions, and we can start feeding off people’s reactions. This is difficult but something we need to be aware of. “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20

8. Recognise that venting has to go somewhere. Once the hurt is aired, it has to be done. A wise friend can help by asking “So what happens now?” Or can give good advice about letting go and looking at the situation with grace and forgiveness. Bearing in mind that forgiveness is not about letting other people off, but it is about freeing yourself from the resentment and bitterness and hurt.

9. Work towards the point of letting it go. At lot of the time, gossip is about validation of our rightness. It’s about controlling the narrative over the other person. That is not an attitude that is filled with grace or love and the only outcome is more hurt for more people. It’s not easy and it doesn’t necessarily happen over night, but work towards letting go. Work towards having grace. Choose what to care about. This is hard. But the bible gives such great guidance. The Psalms show us that God is aware of and understands every fear and negative emotion we have. But in these Psalms, we also see God upholding his people. We don’t get our validation from our friends agreeing with us. We get it from God. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” Psalm 43:5

10. Remember what its for – removing gossip from your life is about creating a cleaner set of thought patterns and developing a more harmonious way of living. Keep working on it. We’re all a work in progress. If you’re someone who loves the drama of a bit of gossip, or know that you find yourself drawn into gossip when someone else is doing it, start watching out for it, and seek help from God and the bible. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3

pexels-photo-306533.jpegLife just happens. And it always seems to happen all at once. My life changed heaps which meant I had to start re-looking at how I do things. Except I’m not a domestic goddess and I’m not a shabby chic earth mother type. I’m a normal mother of two, half-arsing it through life just like everyone else.

But when I changed my diet and my budget, a strange thing happened. I actually started to enjoy looking at ways to live simpler – not just cheaper, but simpler. The side benefits were finding that things were healthier, more fun. AND, as a Christian, it felt good to reduce my reliance on “stuff” – which is better for me, better for the environment, and a better steward of the resources I’ve been blessed with.

So these blogs are basically me bumbling through various ideas on how to do things, because, you know, real life.

“A strong woman looks a challenge in the eye and gives it a wink.” Gina Carey