Monday, March 28, 2011

Collared Evangelism

from Clergy Shirt USA

I think every clergyperson who owns a collar should give 'collared evangelism' a shot. Here's my story.

The church I work at is small. We average about 50 people on a Sunday. We also have no parking. We could probably squeeze twelve cars into our lot if we tried really hard, and there's no room for expansion in our historic neighborhood.

That means we're stuck. If the church is going to thrive, then we have to become a parish church again; that is, we need to have the majority of our congregants walking to church. The problem? We live in a largely dechurched and unchurched neighborhood. Very few people will come on their own.

The solution? Some good old-fashioned evangelism. We have to be in our neighborhood inviting people into relationship with us, with our church, and with God.

But, another problem emerges. When was the last time you introduced yourself to a stranger in a local restaurant? I mean not just saying hello but starting a conversation and exchanging names and business cards? It's been a while, hasn't it? Generally, this is hard because people don't trust strangers. Specifically, this is had because I'm more introverted than extroverted. Because of generalized distrust and my own uneasiness, it's just hard to talk to strangers.

Over the last several months, "collared evangelism" has developed in my imagination. The church where I work rents space to a daycare. There are children and parents about, and I need some way to be marked out as 'belonging' in the church, so I always wear my collar. I noticed that as I wore my collar on public transit to and from the church that strange things started to happen. People approached me. Lots of people started stopping me to get directions. One woman told me about the break-up of her first marriage. The collar did make some people uncomfortable, but it attracted others, not all of whom had church backgrounds.

For some reason or another, in 21st century Toronto, the collar makes me a safe person to talk to. The collar is a uniform. It marks me off as a 'public' person.

So, I'm scared of strangers and those strangers are scared of being talked to by strangers. But, I have to overcome those fears for the sake of the Gospel in our parish's neighborhood. A simple solution presented itself to me: Be a public person. Wear a uniform. In my case, wear a collar.

A plan for collared evangelism developed. I already have a business card with the church's information and service times on it. I decided I would go into neighborhood businesses like coffee houses and restaurants and take advantage of three moments: when I walked in, when someone joined me in line, and when someone sat next to me.

When I walk in, I smile and greet the people behind the counter (if they aren't swamped). Several of the staff at the local coffeehouse already know me by name.

When someone joins me in line or sits down next to me, I say something introductory about the weather or their laptop or whatever. Then I say, "Hi, I'm Jason. I'm a priest at St. Matthew's on First Avenue just up the way." They usually introduce themselves, and we enjoy a few minutes of small talk. When the conversation starts to die (sometimes it takes 30 minutes!), I say, "I'm in the habit of giving out my card. Would you like one?" Everyone has said yes.

I made it into a game and started keeping track of the number of cards I give out. I'm up to 14, and I've invited 2 of those people to church. That's 14 cards in only 5 visits to local establishments.

Now, most priests I know who are older than me hate wearing their collars in public. They either think it's a holdover from established-church days or that it's just plain pretentious. They assume that the culture around them is holding a list of grievances that they are waiting to take out on clergy. Or, they think that they have to hide the church for a while until they can get people into a relationship with Jesus. Then, and only then, will the church make sense.

But, there's another priest in the Diocese of Toronto who through a mutual friend heard about my experiment. He is new to his cure and has been trying to get to know people around his neighborhood. But, as he would start conversations with people in restaurants or other local places, he would run into the strangers-are-scared-of-strangers phenomena. People wouldn't engage him.

Then, he started wearing his collar . . . and everything changed. In a matter of weeks, he had two complete strangers start attending his mid-week Bible study.

Crazy and kinda counter-intuitive, eh?

So, those of you clergy who have collars and feel the call to do some evangelism in your neighborhood, I invite you to join me in this 'collared evangelism' experiment. I'll be collecting stories and anecdotes in the new Collared Evangelism Facebook group. Please come join us and share your stories, both good and bad!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Video for Change Anything

A few weeks ago, I posted an early review of Change Anything by the VitalSmarts team. Here's a new video that really brings the appeal of the book home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Clergy as Superheroes? Questions about Ontological Change

photo by Elvis Santana

It's been said that when someone is ordained, they receive an indelible character; that is, their soul is somehow changed to allow or enable the execution of their ministry. In other words, it is said, ordination effects an ontological change in the person receiving ordination. There is what they were, and now their very being has been changed.

Right off the bat, I find this idea a little dodgy. Are we really saying that ordinands are superheroes? Is it like the Roman Catholic billboard that puts the white silhouette of the clerical collar against a black background with the words, "Yes, you do get to fight evil. No you don't get to wear a cape"? While George Sumner's book Being Salt has helped me understand better how we might mean indelible character when translated into an evangelical key, I'm still uncomfortable with the idea.

But there is a problem: anecdotal evidence mounts.

When I was ordained a deacon, something happened. It was like something settled on me and stuck there. I felt it. I felt it that day and felt a resulting confidence in my ministry. The call was settled and received; I felt a new freedom to be a minister of the Gospel.

But then, when I was ordained a priest, something else odd happened. I work at St. Matthew's Riverdale in Toronto, which shares its facilities with a daycare. The children paid me no mind the six months I worked there before. But, the first time I saw them after being ordained, several of them stopped what they were doing and ran to me. There was an awe, a wonder, on their faces. Needless to say, it was an unnerving encounter!

And I'm not the only one to have these types of experiences. They are whispered about and wondered over everywhere I talk to clergy.

What does it mean? How could we explain it theologically? I'm not sure, and I think we might have gotten ourselves into trouble by trying too hard to do so. I'm no superhero, but I know that I am now different than I was. I am coming to believe that my fathers and mothers in faith wrestled with the same experience in their own ordinations. I might not like their formulations, but I am grateful that they tried to bring their experience to speech. Even though I might use different words, I don't think I could bring these experiences to expression without their help. Thanks be to God for the wisdom of the ages.

Are you a clergyperson? What was/is your experience?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Post-Liberal Catholic Anglicanism?

It's been said that Anglicanism has three major parties: the Evangelical, the Anglo-Catholic, and the Liberal. There have been overlaps among these parties. It is not uncommon to find an Anglican seminary devoted to liberal Catholicism, and it is becoming increasingly common at Evangelical seminaries to have Anglican ordinands genuflecting, crossing themselves, thinking more and more highly of the ever-Blessed Virgin Mary, and longing for the baptismal font to be filled with Holy Water.

Given our theological training, I think it would be wrong to call us "Evangelical Catholics," even though we are "evangelical" in the classical sense of the word: we're Protestants. But, we resemble in our worship, practice, and ethos Liberal Catholicism more than we do American Evangelicalism. Our Yale-school teachers are sometimes called "Post-liberals." Does that make us Post-Liberal Catholics? If so, what are the contours of Post-Liberal Catholicism? How does it interact with the Reformation? Who are its guiding lights? Where might it take us in the future?

The label of Post-Liberal Catholic just seems to fit me and others I know. Where do you fall?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Our Churches as Self-Obsessed Teenagers

My wife Dr. Monique and I recently had a conversation. The topic: the North American church. Monique's earth-shaking observation: Our churches act like self-obsessed teenagers.

Think about it, she said. Self-obsessed teenagers, shoulders slouched, spend all of their time worrying about what others think of them. Every little thing builds into the story they tell. "So and so doesn't like me." "She said that little thing about enzymes in science class just to make fun of me." You remember that time in your life.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Change Anything

I just finished reading an advance copy of Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success by the team at VitalSmarts. They're the ones who brought us Crucial ConversationsCrucial Confrontations, and Influencer, all books I've become convinced are must-reads for clergy. Crucial Confrontations stands out because it teaches skills for 'speaking the truth in love' to those who violate agreed upon expectations - something very important for those of us who lead volunteer-based organizations. Crucial Conversations teaches 'tools for talking when stakes are high,' a relevant skill. Influencer delves into the six sources of influence, an idea that Change Anything applies to personal success.

Change Anything argues that we all fall into the 'willpower trap' which convinces us that if we fail to make a change, then it is all the fault of our faulty wills. No, Patterson, et. al., argue, there are at least six sources of influence that condition our behavior, only one of which is our own personal motivation. If we only have one of the six on our side, then we're outnumbered and should not expect to see positive change happen. If, however, we can demystify the six sources and develop change plans that address them, then we will be much more likely to achieve the change we want.

The six sources comprise of three sources of motivation (personal, social, structural) and three sources of ability (personal, social, structural). Our "wills" are personal motivation. But, they're only one of the six. If we really want to change something, we have to engage the other five. Not too long ago, I decided that I needed to cut back on coffee consumption. One simple change completely removed my will from the equation: I washed and stored my automatic coffee maker. Suddenly, it was easy to consume a reasonable amount of coffee per day. That's an example of the structural ability source of influence at work. Without easy access to large amounts of coffee, my intake dropped without having to fight temptation one bit. Amazing!

Change Anything, due out April 11, 2011, is important for pastors because it gives us a vocabulary to help people change, which is the point of our work. We are called to be stewards of ours and others' sanctification. This little resource goes a long way towards helping us see the insidious ways that the world uses to keep us in its grasp. It also gives us resources to rapidly and effectively change our own behaviors. Whether we need to do more evangelism or keep better track of the church's books, Change Anything will be a good place to start to develop a change plan to make us more effective ministers of the Gospel of Christ. I recommend it, and the other books from VitalSmarts, with no reservations.

I'd love to have a conversation about the theological implications of a book like this - if you're interested, join me in the comments.