Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Blacks and Baseball" article and Church

Above is a link to a story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about how "blacks are fading from baseball." I tuned into the story on my drive up to STL for our UU General Assembly and was listening to the sports talk shows.

Here is the lead and slant:

When U.S. Sen. Jim Talent co-sponsored legislation to proclaim May 20, 2006, as "Negro Leaguers Recognition Day," he had scant notion of its true necessity or the paradox it entailed. Nearly 60 years after Jackie Robinson burst through baseball’s color barrier, U.S.-born African-American players are virtually vanishing from the game. Three decades after blacks made up nearly 30 percent of major league rosters, they now make up about 8 percent — less than half the 17.25 percent of 1959, the first year every team was integrated. The trend has come home to roost on the roster of the Cardinals, who currently have zero blacks on their major league roster and almost none in their farm system.

Now the talk show was abuzz with possible explanations for this change. Lots of good explanations were given: Low committment by major league teams to invest in inner city areas, for example; the urban landscape which doesn't allow for lots of nieghborhood fields and parks for ballplaying to nurture the sport; male role models and few volunteer coaches, the high cost of tickets and percentage of blacks in the stands, etc. The explanations began to get interesting when they began mentioning why football and particularly basketball were growing in interest among young urban black males, and baseball wasn't, and they mentioned the pace of the game. Baseball's pace is out of synch with the hip-hop pace. As out of synch as baseball afficionado George Will, I imagine.

I think it is, or could be, a reflection of the shift from modernist to postmodernist or quantum culture. Baseball isn't as (in Leonard Sweet's EPIC words) experiential enough, participative enough, image-driven enough, and community connecting enough. I am not sure it is possible to become so.

My question, though, is that if this is a generational and cultural prism, does it ring true for other youth of other ethnic populations. There is mention of the rise in Latinos in baseball, (still a ticket to the US? the way sports is viewed as a ticket to wealth among some in US? I don't know), and what of MTV-driven white young males? Maybe what we are seeing is the canary in the cave; right now other factors mentioned above keep baseball engaging for the young sports minded player who is white, but for how long?

And, of course, how telling is this for the church? In what ways are our current churches in baseball mode? And baseball does seem so linear and print-oriented, down to the importance of the scorebook and marking it up inning by inning, the connect the dots of each play 6 to 3 out, whereas in the quantum world the dots don't connect. If you decided to take a church planting team out to a sports event to watch, enjoy, and then come back later and look for lessons learned for the mission of the church, which sporting event would it be and why?

the thing that is wrong with progessive faith

Maybe it was the drive back from St. Louis, maybe it was the experience of another General Assembly and reading about the summer gatherings of Presbyterians ("accept" the report but don't "approve it" or "reject" it lol, in reference to their study of homosexuality and the church) and the Episcopalians, maybe reading the book "The Phoenix Affirmations" on progressive Christian faith (good book as far as it goes)...but somewhere around Joplin the line hit me--what is wrong with progressive Christianity, or progressive faith in general (UU know who UU are) is that it is progressive.

We are so busy investing ourselves in the next big thing, or the new and improved thing, the cause around the corner that we don't realize how this keeps us from being grounded where we are and to hear the calling of our context. Progressives love progression, I think, because it keeps us in the life of the mind--the future will come to us as an idea, we think. Not sure I want to blame this most recently on Whitehead, blessed be his name, and Process Thought, but there is something to how the Creator as Creativity comes to us Cultural Creatives, and becomes something like a mind-hit, an addiction to the next idea and the next, etc. (you will no doubt remind me to read my James Luther Adams and my F.H. Hedge and my George Huntston Williams on Hedge to know this is nothing new but of course the predictable failing; I am just wondering if we have forgotten it).

I prefer the term Ancient-Future faith to Progessive Faith these days because it keeps the ancient in the mix, which keeps us in the world, and makes us wonder where are we in the intersection of the ancient and the future and what is that intersection calling us to do. Maybe for you early 20th century theology buffs you will get a whiff of Tillich and dare I say Barth here moreso than Whitehead. Emerson to Whitehead to the church grave?

Maybe this is a reason why there is so little concern or conversation about church planting among us? We, progressives in many religious affiliations, are focused on getting our existing churches to catch up with us and our enlightenments, and spend much energy on transforming the old wineskins to handle the new wine of various causes. We stay attached to the "churches that are" in order to have a place for us to continually reinforce and act out our identity as progressives.

If we worried equally about how the ancient would be incarnated in the future, as we do about how the present can be transformed to better fit our current ideologies/theologies, then we would have church planting perpetually on our agenda. It would be one of our reasons for being. Ancient Christian faith has the Great Commandment and Great Commission at its core (two liberal commandments by the way) and so it compels us to be so committed. The committment to plant and relate to new people comes first--the particular kind of church planting, or relationship-creating, will come afterwards. Our progressive understanding of right relationships comes afterwards and answers the question of how we plant. The why and the must comes first.

More to come as I go into vacation mode, and instead of the beach I plan to visit some nice blogs.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Post from GA...Any Church Plant sightings?

Hi all. from St. Louis. Remember if you are here you can catch me most times at the UU Christian Fellowship booth in the Exhibit Hall. I am curious to know if you all who are at GA hear of any talk or programs on church planting in the UU movement. A cursory examination of the program doesn't look promising for the future of our movement, which is contingent on starting new churches in new cultures.

Usually when UUA President Bill Sinkford addresses the ministers, church growth and new starts are a part of his opening remarks. Each year they have been. This year, nothing. But the first question was about any growth strategies we might have. Growth period, not just church plants. The responses now seem to center on continuing exploration of another large church rapid start, or some modifications of that, in Pennsylvannia, and what I think might be an even more interesting model of small church growth and starts (?) in Florida. But generally out of failed experiments we know, it is said, that we need to experiment more. I would say, with the Disciples of Christ, 1000 new experimental starts in 10 years. That would be an Apollo Project for us. But the number I have heard is a vision of maybe 20 experiments. Oh well, at least that would be a comittment.

I think the experts that have been brought in are probably better at getting existing churches to grow by addition, and maybe multiplication, and that is something too, but not much. I think even when the vision is there, that I get the impression no one knows how to start. People are afraid of top-down strategies, which is good, but there is not even a committment and vision for how to encourage bottom-up strategies, and how to commit to connecting people with passion around this topic, and no resources given on how to network experiments so we can learn from one another.

Feels like people are in Pathways Shock and Grief. Which is okay for a quick season, I guess, but the world is moving on while we do whatever else we do here in St. Louis, and address whatever other resolutions and debates we will be doing.

I stand to be corrected and would love to report more so please let me know where I should be looking and listening to. Church plants anyone? church multiplication? Emerging Church lessons or conversation? Hello? Hello?

Maybe that's what happens when you become the "cutting edge." You lose connection.

Again, kudos and blessings to all in the progressive church movement, UU or otherwise, who have tried, want to try, are in the midst of trying, or just supporting others with prayer and conversation any church planting at all.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Dozen Plant (and Growth in general) Killers

Here are a dozen of the biggest mistakes I have made as a church planter. They seemed like good ideas at the time, or they were rolls of the dice, risk-taking failures. They have been the stones in my steep learning curve. Nothing probably new here, I think, for those who follow church planting stories. Hope they help others as they have helped me......

1. Overall mistake was getting stuck or backslid into default mode of modernity church culture and of "starting" (mechanical metaphor) instead of postmodern unchurch culture and "planting." Born in 1954, it is understandable. I wonder if anyone born before 1963 can really plant pomo (churches seem to grow most in the age range plus or minus 10 years of that of the minister); maybe depends on how quickly you can cultivate leadership teams full of those born after. Hmmm. "Born after" might be as important or moreso than "born again" in this matter, though I do feel born again after the last three years of learning. When I started in 2003 I knew I needed to do it differently than in 1991, but how easy old habits pull at us.

2. Location Location Location equals Culture, Culture, Culture. First, I hadn't lived long enough in the area to plant there. There is a good reason why parachute drop plantings rarely if ever succeed without huge offsetting resources and good on the ground teams. Also a fast-growing suburban area was not a place to go into without a lot of resources because the folks there expect institutions to be like Walmarts and Home Depots, etc., big and fully equipped and ready to meet their needs from the get-go, rather than growing entrepenurial ground-up teams. It was not a good fit for my family and me. Found out we were not cul-de-sac folks. It can be done but with someone who can fit into culture better, even in a going against the grain of the universe liberation theological going-where-they-are way. Our start got lost in the boom and bigness and accentuated difference and weaknesses instead of strengths.

3. Timing mistake. When planting began was a problem. A lot of stress from moving and other matters of a sandwich-generation example on me and family, starting a tentmaking plant (meaning the plant is unpaid and paycheck comes from elsewhere) and working full time adds stress, especially emotionally when my work was with hospice as chaplain (good experience with team building which is vital but an emotional toll). Didn't put my own oxygen mask on first. Add to it stress in the family. Also being new in the ministry makes a big difference. Solo parachute drop for someone new in ministry is a big stretch; there are just some things you learn about leadership and being a non-anxious presence that come with experience that really helps in planting. Rejection sensitivity is a plant killer. Prayer practice is vital, and so is coaching, on the ground if possible. Didn't have it.

4. line and Timeline anxiety. Connected to point 3. Trying to stick to a line for growing so that I could go from unpaid to paid, builds anxiety into me and the group and the system and culture. The ly plant killer. This was something I kept battling against and at least I knew it was a problem but need to intentionally build in against the pressures from the beginning. On the plus side I didn't have stress of denominational stress as so many church plants do (the downside of getting the resources from them). But I made up for it with internal forced expectations. On the other hand, let me say that perfectionism is also a big problem, and I suppose if you wait until you think things are perfectly in tune to begin, then you might never start.

5. Advertising in newspapers. Broad-casting doesn't work as much as personal recruiting and narrow-casting. The folks it brings in aren't going to be what you need to cultivate leadership in planting team unless you get real lucky; they are going to be ones responding to big church type advertising and . In this as in all things, one sin is trying to duplicate big church ways in small plant. The old CW was to always think and act bigger than you are; some truth there, for you want to have big dreams and visions and risks, but it can't carry over from spirit to structure and ways of behaving. There is a reason in the Gospel of Mark, that great discipling document, why Jesus is always telling people, according to Mark, to keep things a secret. There is a time and place for going public; a lot of work and cultivating needs to happen "under the radar" as Easum and Tenny-Brittain's book title indicates. Beware who shows up from advertising. Also see below post on heresy number 1 for more.

6. Rush to Public Worship was a mistake. Connected to previous mistakes. Trying to start on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is a mistake unless you have built up to it and have a good group going; not a way to attract those who will help you grow the plant. These holy days again bring out the folks who are more inclined to get and consume than give and produce; which is fine in time, but not at beginning. Some can stay and change with you but not worth it. Premature births again. Early on it is all leadership development, culture creating, and public advertised to anyone worship defeats that (heresy number 1 again). Worship is fine to build in, especially for pomos and millenial generation, but it should be private worship for group only to nurture and not be the kind of worship you want to project later. And should be a team thing.

7. I robed that first Easter Sunday. Trying to offset the sterility of the hotel conference room atmosphere. But it reinforced churched culture, and wasn't fit for the cultural environment in which the plant needed to grow. Accentuated clergy-focus too and didn't add to community relationship building. I can laugh about it now...

8. This needs to go up higher but I didn't focus on cultivating relationships in general with the team that did start coming and meeting weekly (meeting with them on Sunday afternoon was also a problem; too much like "going to church". ) I went straight into teaching them about church planting, as if they had enrolled in a seminary course, instead of helping them connect and relate to one another and the life of God and their lives. Should have partied more and done more servant evangelism and less handouts (arrgh!!). This is part of the new minister problem. Can't quite laugh about it yet....

9. I had the cross in the office instead of in the open. Which meant I wasn't creating a culture of self-differentiation, among other things. Crosses are supposed to be boomer-cringe and not seeker sensitive, but pomos and millenials are image-starved and symbol-rich. There's a lot more theological to pursue here later but it is also connected to anxiety and new minister issues and lack of clarity of mission, vision, and values. The movement of the cross to front and center, the first item brought into our new space made all the difference in how the spirit seemed to surge, through me and later to others. Whatever your symbol, make it important and front and center.

10. We got into rented space, first weekly at hotel conference rooms and then in our own permanent space, a bad space, on a good road but still back in a strip mall. Took too much for maintenance; wasn't geared to servant evangelism and using it as a community center. Accentuated our smallness in a culture that only saw "bigness." Now our building is more in line with size of other institutions in our area, churches and otherwise. This is still a growing concern. Trying to gradually decrease connection with any building, and might still move in part or toto back to living rooms and restaurants, streets, etc. Multi-site even in a micro-culture is great way to extend outside your concept of yourself.

11. Starting on Sunday mornings. See reasons above about expectations of churched culture. Moving to Sunday afternoons was good for cultivating the life of our core team, especially their family life. Sat. evening around 5 might still be a good time to shift too, or to get a relationship group gathering on. Would love to have some folks meeting at midnight, for breakfast, when shifts end at 3 a.m. You get the picture.

12. Had the wrong name. Epiphany was too church culture, especially for where we were. The Living Room sends out a different signal and is more portable. I probably would not put up any or as much religious language on our building like I did even here in Turley where we have a sign on top that says God's Love is for all, and another sign that says Free Universalist, and another that says In the Spirit of Jesus. Again, not as interested now in bringing in the newbie to us, as in finding ways to go be with the newbies in the world and forming relationships and community first and then opening up theological reasons why we are in the world and forming relationships and community. Interesting how labels and names are so modernistic and a turn-off to many now.

There will be more that comes up but this is a good start. Not enough leadership. Not a cultural fit. Not enough resources to offset the first two mismatches. In the future I will talk about ways we have tried lately to re-plant and grow again after learning these mistakes and the redefinition of success, and the new spirit that grew, leading the way, as it always does, for growth in the other ways.