I spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning at the Willowcreek 2004 Leadership Summit. On the whole, I was impressed with the speakers and the content of their seminars. Only one of the speaker wasn't very good and that more because she appeared uncomfortable with public speaking - the content of her talk was good, just poorly presented. I feel like I got some good tools for my current ministry and am pretty motivated to start putting some of them into play.
There were some moments of subtle irony. For instance, Bill Hybel's (senior pastor of Willowcreek) gave a talk on volunteers within the church and used 2 examples to illustrate his points. One was from what he described as an "Ephesians 4 church"(E4) and the other from a "clergy controlled church" (CCC). Basically, in the E4 church, volunteers play a prominent role in serving the congregation & the mission of the church and people are able to put their passions and talents to good use, which is very satisfying for them and makes them feel really connected. In the CCC, volunteers are valued only for their ability to do jobs the staff don't want to do, like janitorial duties, and everything of import is handled by paid staff pastoral staff. Bill spoke encouragingly of the E4 and disparagingly of the CCC - too much top-down hierarchical control and too much reliance on paid staff, or something like that. Now, the irony - Willowcreek has over 450 paid staff people. Additionally, several of the speakers, including Bill himself, talked about times when leaders have to step out in obedience to God's calling regardless of what the people think, say or do - which is, of course, top-down hierarchical control.
Irony aside, this comparison got me wondering - how do volunteers and the laity normally participate in the lives of their local church in Orthodoxy? If any Orthodox readers would care to fill me in, I'd greatly appreciate it, because I think to a certain extent Bill is correct. The church should be a place where people not only connect with God, but are able to find ways to use their God-given talents to serve the Lord, serve His church and their fellow Christians.
I also spent Friday night and Saturday afternoon at a delegate session for our denomination. First, I must say that I have absolutely no stake in this group. This denomination does not have a very distinct identity, and its member churches run the gamut from very traditional conservative congregations to small rural churches to larger seeker-sensitive enterprises. So I really could not get myself very fired up about what was going on - namely re-electing our current denominational president, various elders and passing our budget. Second, and I hate to sound negative, I sat back watching all of this wondering why this relatively small denomination was so intent on going it alone. Our theology is pretty run-of-the-mill, so I don't understand why they aren't joined up with some other denomination or conference. Why are we putting the time and money into our own little organization when there would seem to be many other areas that could put them both to better use? And quite frankly, whose idiotic idea was it to schedule a 5 hour delegate session in a building without air-conditioning after a 9 hour summit day and then not serve any flippin' coffee?!?!?!?!?!
The real upside to the whole ordeal was getting to see my wife's extended family. My in-laws are 2 of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and her uncle is a real hoot. My father-in-law and her uncle both have a ton of ministry experience, so we had a good long talk over dinner about the difficulties I'm having at my current position. And my wife got to talk to her mother Saturday morning for a while, and actually brought up some of our thoughts about Orthodoxy. I didn't know she was going to do this, so I was pretty blown away that she would bring it up, especially to her folks.