Congregational Development Oddities

New Rectors and Vicars in the Diocese of Milwaukee participate in Fresh Start, a nationwide program that seeks to help us make the transition into our new ministries. It’s a wonderful opportunity to develop relationships with other clergy in the diocese, to create camaraderie and to share experiences. But of course there is also programmatic stuff.

I have learned a great deal from congregational development gurus over the years and I’m a big fan of the Alban Institute but occasionally there are things that simply seem misguided or flat-out wrong. Today we did something that seemed very much the latter to me.

We were given two questions on which to plot our responses from 1-10. The first was a choice between “The only way to know God is in a one-on-one, direct relationship” and “The only way to know God is in the midst of God’s people.” So far so good.

The second set of alternatives was between “The end and purpose of life is so to live that I am reunited with God in my death” and “The end and purpose of life is to participate with brothers and sisters in building a human society of shalom, where peace and justice and love reign.”

The problem for me was the latter alternative. No mention of God there at all, and indeed in the graphic we later saw, that end of the axis was described as “secular.”

Now, I have no doubt that many people would have a problem with that second alternative. But the vision of the “Kingdom of God” articulated by Jesus was just that, a kingdom, reign, where God was present, and human community was also a crucial part. It may be that some clergy might be comfortable with a vision of a “human community of shalom” that excluded God, but I’m not sure why they would stay in the business.

The grid is from the work of Loren Mead. No doubt there is something in what he was trying to get at, but even in the examples he used, comparing Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, using MLK as someone who used the “secular style” seems to me misguided. King may have worked in the public  sphere, but his “style” and language were theological and religious.  The copyright date on the material is 1994, and I’m curious whether it reflects an different era.

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