I read a very interesting post this week on Facebook. The post was shared by and author who identified herself as “Christina.” The post addressed a number of issues related to the present political climate in the context of race and privilege. One statement in particular stood out for me in the article. “To people of color like me” Christina stated, “the movement toward a more level playing field is occurring at a painfully glacial pace. But to many white men, the change is happening so fast and it all seems so painful! Sociologists Henderson and Herring note that when white men begin to feel the effects of equality (e.g., they realize that they no longer receive preferential treatment or have power over others), it feels like discrimination to them. Being treated like everyone else is not discrimination (in fact, it is the textbook definition of equality). But when you’ve lived atop the racial hierarchy for your entire life and grown accustomed to preferential treatment and disproportionate amounts of power, it’s emotionally painful and destabilizing when they’re taken away.”
I have been thinking about this statement all week. I see its reality in so many places. I see it being lived out in so many situations ─ those named in the article to be sure ─ but also well beyond just race and gender. I see it being lived out where shifts are bringing about change and those who have held power in the past are seeing a growing equality as discrimination. I see it in the culture as a whole and I see it in the Church as well. I see it in others and I have felt it in me. It is a reality to which we need to pay attention.
My hope is that we might allow God’s Spirit to work in all of us when we encounter that rising tide of angst that usually accompanies this experience. My hope and prayer is that we might invite God’s Spirit to check us when we encounter that rising indignation about how we are being treated and seek to humbly discover if it might be that we are experiencing exactly what Christina is naming from a privilege perspective.
These are not easy things to admit. As the article points out all our defenses go up when we are confronted with this experience. But as followers of Christ, it behooves us to constantly be looking for the places where our privilege may be affecting others and where we may be holding on tightly to power. And when we find those places, to then as Jesus did, pick up the towel and basin and choose the path that leads to life.
I have been reminded again this week of the importance of mission alignment. As I suspect you know already, mission alignment is about understanding your church’s purpose and focusing in on the mission that flows out of that purpose with laser like precision. Knowing what your mission is and zeroing in on the things necessary for the accomplishment of that mission is critical to successfully carrying out a church’s calling. Mission alignment answers two vital questions: One, what should we be doing? And two: What shouldn’t we be doing? Every church needs to continually evaluate itself on the basis of how well it is accomplishing its mission and purpose and aligning the mission is vital in that process.
And while I have thought about this in terms of churches, districts, annual conferences, and organizations for some years now, I never really thought about it in terms of the work of individual pastors or my work as a District Superintendent. I think I have thought intuitively about our work and the questions that arise out of mission alignment. But I’ve not really put the two together into the same language. But the fact is, like churches, leaders need mission alignment as well.
An interesting reality I see in the annual church conference joint dialogue forms, that SPRC’s and clergy do together every year (yes, I read them!) is that in the space where it asks, “What should the pastor stop doing in order to accomplish the shared goals?” Rarely is there anything listed! Apparently we believe that simply adding more and more tasks to the pastor’s plate will create more effective ministry.
Of course like a church without mission alignment, a pastor who does everything usually goes a mile wide and an inch deep. And while the church culture continues to reward this model of behavior there are congregations and clergy that are doing things differently. I am aware for example, of churches where much of the hospital visitation is being done by a trained team of compassionate lay people. This can be done in some very creative ways and can allow the pastoral leader significant time to focus on leading and the particular roles that are uniquely theirs. When I was serving in the local church, I chose not to attend some of the meetings. I checked in with the leaders but I didn’t find it necessary to attend the meetings themselves.
Now is the DS suggesting that pastors stop doing pastoral care, or play golf during the Ad-Council meeting? No. I am suggesting that there are ways to structure things differently so that the ten things that the pastor is currently doing might be honed and focused around the mission and calling of a pastoral leader. So that the pastoral leader can become more and more able to concentrate on his/her particular and perhaps unique role in the task of carrying out the mission of the church.
Mission alignment is critical for the church and for the pastoral leader. Without it we try to do everything and often we end up doing nothing really well.