This uneasy story happened in my life as a parish pastor. It happened more often than I would like to admit. I wonder if it has also been in your experience as a part of a faith community.
We would sit around the table; church council, education committee, youth committee, or stewardship committee and talk about a new venture. It could have been a meeting to consider offering a new Bible study or funding a youth initiative, or making some changes to worship style. In the conversation, we found ourselves asking these sorts of questions: Would this new Bible study series develop stronger stewardship in the congregation?; Would the new youth initiative increase youth retention?; Would making a change to worship style increase attendance? But I think even as we spoke the questions, we were, all of us around the table, uneasy about making the membership count or the offering in the plates the main point of what we were doing; and in turn making ministry a way of manipulating the outcome. Let me set that uneasy recurring story aside for a moment.
This past fall at the First Call program our newest rostered leaders along with their bishops were engaged by the inspiring presentations of Dr. Martin Brokenleg. Part of Dr. Brokenleg’s presentation centred on the Circle of Courage model for positive youth development (from Reclaiming Youth at Risk co-authored by Brokenleg). Dr. Brokenleg spoke of the Circle of Courage model as a medicine wheel a model for tending to a spiritual centre in young people with a focus on four universal needs: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Let me take a moment to perhaps too briefly define the terms. Belonging is to know oneself as belonging to a group or tribe, to be welcomed by that group, to be valued by that group. Mastery is to develop competency by watching and listening to others who have greater experience. Independence is to develop inner discipline so that an individual can solve problems on their own and take personal responsibility for their actions. Generosity is to develop a belief in one’s own inner goodness so that one is able to give to others. The application of the Circle of Courage to nurture a spiritual centre in at risk youth was certainly what Dr. Brokenleg’s presentation was directly about. But I found myself with two ongoing lines of thought about the relationship of the Circle of Courage presentation to that uneasy story recurring around the tables of church leaders.
First, I continue to be struck by the contrast of tending to the development of a “spiritual center” with our recurring questions of managing to increase membership numbers or to generate more dollars. I wonder if church leaders, spending most of our waking moments as we do in a consumer world, have unintentionally taken consumer language deeply into our conversations about ministry. Is that why there is an uneasiness around the table? Because we know in some deep place that dollars and cents and attendance numbers cannot be the final measure of the actions of a faith community.
Second, I continue to find the language of the Circle of Courage an inspiration to my thinking about the ministry we do. What is a children’s story if not a tending to a spiritual core in children through an experience of being included, valued, ‘belonging.’ What is teaching confirmation class to young people, or for that matter teaching a young person how to canoe at one of our camps; if not a tending to a spiritual core through a focus on competence, ‘mastery.’ And are not stewardship efforts at their best, the work of tending to a spiritual core in our people through a focus on developing awareness of their God given goodness within so that they are able to share with others.
I am still mulling over the conversation of this uneasy recurring story and the experience of Dr. Brokenleg’s presentation. In the middle of it all, I wonder what God is saying to us in the faith communities of the 21st century.