Monday, February 23, 2009
RevGalBookPals: Tribal Church
I’m in Black Mountain, NC right now because my godchildren were baptized yesterday. It’s breathtaking to see the mountains, and to be out of the city for a bit. We’ll be traveling back to D.C. today, but Songbird gave me this wonderful opportunity to talk about Tribal Church with you, so I’m going to check in as much as I can.
My day job is working as a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church. And, like most of you, I also write and blog in my spare time. I wrote Tribal Church because I was tired of hearing about how the only way to reach out to a new generation of young adults (adults under the age of forty) was to get out the praise choruses, ditch the pews, and ignite a worship war in your congregation. It seemed like the only way that it was possible to minister to them was to throw out all of our traditions, and plant a booming, Gen-X church, with lots of imagery flashing on a powerpoint screen.
But that was not what was happening in the congregations that I served for the last ten years. When I talked to young parents, they said they liked being at the church because it gave their kids a chance to be around old people. And people told me over and over again that they appreciated the traditions and the liturgy. They enjoyed being a part of a community that was not about a charismatic pastor, but it was more like they were stepping into a stream, a deep current of faith and doubt that had been flowing before them, and would be flowing after them. They longed for sacred traditions like contemplative prayer.
Their words echoed my own experience. As a woman, growing up in the midst of various churches—conservative Southern Baptist congregations and mega-churches—I longed for the beauty, art, liturgy, and social justice traditions that mainline congregations had to offer.
I use the metaphor “tribe” because tribes are intergenerational communities that care for one another. And when we are at our best, we do the same thing—when we walk alongside each other, encouraging each other on our spiritual journeys.
Of course, it wasn’t always easy in the mainline church. Strangely, I often sensed a fear of outsiders, rather than a welcoming. People had a difficult time understanding why I would leave my conservative upbringing and join the mainline, and the switch was viewed with suspicion (especially during my ordination process).
The church’s healthy love of education could grow into a pernicious classism that made people check my resume at coffee hour. As they would ask, “And where do you work?” they were never thrilled about me working at the mall. And when they asked, “Where did you go to school?” they were not asking for a reference to the local high school.
So, I also wrote the book to try to sort out some of the roadblocks that we have to reaching out to men and women under forty. For instance, many of our congregations do not understand some of the economic realities of young adults, and they have a tendency of thinking of them as simply irresponsible with their money. They don’t always understand that many of them are not able to make long-term financial commitments to their congregations.
Congregations have difficulty realizing that a new generation of women is not able to keep up with the time-consuming customs that older generations have constructed. If certain practices are dying, we may need to rethink them, instead of berating young adults for not being involved. That means that some of our most sacred customs—the women’s clubs, the yard sales, the quilting circles, and church cookbooks—will need some serious thought.
And we have difficulty allowing young leadership to flourish. We tend to expect people to take a lot of time, working their way up our church systems, instead of our congregations being actively recruiting young, innovative leadership.
So, I wonder, what are the major barriers that your church has while reaching out to young adults?
Are there customs that are clearly not making the shift to a new generation?
Are there traditions inherent in the customs that your congregation needs to maintain and nurture?
What sort of things are your young adults passionate about?
And, of course, if there’s anything that you would like to ask me about the book, I’d be happy to answer. As usual, you can buy the book through the Amazon link on the right, and the portion of the proceeds will go to RevGals.