...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Question & Denominational Hoopla

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.


alana said...

The vast contrast between CCC and E4, painting "CCC" as "bad" and the irony you mentioned give me a chuckle. I'm sure in Hybel's mind, Orthodoxy is the ultimate example of CCC. Here's how it goes down on the local level:

We are all saying our morning and evening prayers in our homes, at our home altars, and as a parish community learning to pray and fast. The priest is finally able to be at the church fairly much full time, since we got a church planting grant. As a result, the doors are open, and people flow in and out, for morning prayers, to pray privately, to talk with the priest, to receive alms, to inquire about Orthodoxy, to volunteer their time, etc.

We have a volunteer janitorial staff who does get paid a stipend. Fr. is always asking for volunteer to help with "officy" stuff. There is a mission council, consisting of my husband , two other men and a woman. The jobs and the council are treasurer, warden, secretary, and councilmember. Assignments to these jobs are according to gifts. My husband is the treasurer, and goes in at least once a week to keep the books up to date and bills paid. He and another man count the money and deposit it on Sundays, rendering them late for common meal much of the time. He does all this on his own time. No one pays him for this. The choir director, also one of the members of the parish/mission council also puts in huge amounts of time voluntarily.

We also have two lovely women serving as children's ministries coordinators because that is their gift. No one pays them. Sunday school teachers and assistants...same deal. I personally fit in by having Bible club for the kids after our common meal (Bible story with homemade flannel graphs and memory verses, that sort of deal. Sunday School is more like a catechism and deals with theological concepts at appropriate age levels). We have one man who is so very gifted at arranging flowers, and so he comes in a gives much time and money on that effort. Volunteers run our bookstore, and volunteers coordinate our common meals. All pitch in to clean up.

What does our priest do? He prays for us, he counsels us, he hears confession, he works with the council toward making decisions, even though he has the final authority in decision making (and responsibility for those decisions...don't call a priest Father for nothing) he is available to seekers, he is our point man, so to speak, he serves Divine Liturgy, and he prays some more...oh yeah, and preaching, too.

So far, I think it's safe to say, as a congregation, we've always done things with consensus, when there 's a big decision, such as pursuing land purchase.

We have three tonsured readers, (this is a minor order of clergy...maybe some day some of these men will be ordained subdeacon, then deacon, then priest...) who help read the services, and direct the choir. Oh, yes, lots of talent in our choir which works so very hard. Our readers happen to be the three men on the mission council. Others can read in the services though. I love volunteering to read the prayers of the hours before Divine Liturgy starts, for instance, or read prayers of preparation for Communion on Saturday night while confession is going on...there is always stuff to do, and it's not just the "dirty work".

People come in early to light the candles and lamps, men serve the priest in the altar area (getting the censor ready, etc. processing with lanterns when the gospel book is brought out, that sort of thing).

The women have a fellowship group which cooordinates meals for those in need, as well.

OK, I'm out of breath just thinking of it all. We are busy little bees, I reckon. We are "just down the road"...he he he. Stop in and visit sometime: www.athanasiusoca.org

alana said...

I forgot to mention the man who is a gifted woodworker who made a cross to hang above our front door, and the two people who are learning iconongraphy.

Karl Thienes said...

"how do volunteers and the laity normally participate in the lives of their local church in Orthodoxy?"

While there is no cookie-cutter formula, what Alana notes is, IMO, pretty common; particularly in smaller parishes.

Other the priest and a deacon (if there is one) and perhaps the choir director, most other duties and positions are staffed by non-paid volunteers. And all are staffed based on interest, gifts, time, and ability.

The priest, because he knows each parishioner so well, is able to suggest areas where each might best serve. The Orthodox parish life is much more like a family than a business. People pitch in organically and everyone is on the lookout for how they can help.

While there is structure in every Orthodox parish (parish council, Church School staff, various "committees", etc) there tends to be a more "earthy" and comfortable nature to the various organizations and groups within the Church.

YMMV, of course.

Anonymous said...

Just read your previous post, and was going to post a long comment, but realized you weren't saying what I thought you were saying. :)
Good thoughts. I'll visit occasionally. God bless.

Nathan said...

That is quite a bit handled by volunteers! The more I've thought about it, the E4 and CCC models are really not incompatible as was suggested by the anecdote Bill presented. Now, in a church that truly looked down on its members and thought they could offer nothing more than menial labor, you would clearly have a problem. But I think that could happen in any church, regardless of the model. A volunteer committee can be just as tyrannical and oppressive as a group of clergymen.

Karl Thienes said...

"A volunteer committee can be just as tyrannical and oppressive as a group of clergymen."

That is quite true. There is a running joke that in some parishes the parish council president has more power than the priest!

In Orthodoxy, the parish structure is not (or should not be) a democracy--it is a benevolent and informed monarchy where the priest (and really the bishop) has final say. But again, just as the husband is the "head of the family" yet doesn't let others utilize their gifts within the family, so also the priest does not "lord it over" the parish.

I think Bill is posting a bit of a false dichotomy. The two models are not mutually exclusive; at least in theory.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you talk a lot about Orthodoxy and your denomination. What denomination is that, exactly? How would you describe your theology? Protestant? Presbyterian? Baptistic? Charismatic? Lutheran? Do you hold to the Westminster Assembly theology?

Doug said...

I’m still an inquirer, but my wife and I have been attending an Orthodox church (www.protomartyr.org) for about a year. We love it and we love the people of the parish. It was a bit of a shock to realize just how deeply so many of these people are involved in the life of the parish. I’ve heard it said, as I think Karl did above, that an Orthodox parish is like a family, really, and less like an organization. It sounds a little cheesy, perhaps, but it’s really true. I’m still shocked by the truth of it. There are maybe 120 parishoners at St Stephen’s, but these people are tight. They know each other backwards and forwards and they do a pretty good job of loving each other. (It’s funny, there are tons of children and you can never tell which kids belong to which parents, since everyone seems to serve as God-parent for everyone else’s kids.) Plus, they love and respect our priest greatly and look to him and honor him for the leadership, love, prayer and guidance he provides.

The description given above about the different ways in which people become involved is pretty descriptive of our parish community too, I’ve learned. My wife and I were always the kind that never really wanted to get involved in the church community’s life to any great degree. I never felt that kind of deep commitment to any of the churches I worshiped in as a child or an adult. I feel differently about this Church and this parish. I love it. I deeply care about it. I want it to thrive. I want it to be beautiful, and I want to do what I can to help. I’ve already been made to feel like I belong here, but I can’t wait to be chrismated and to partake of the Eucharist with them and to become more involved, to serve and care for this Church and this parish as a real member of it.

Nathan said...

K -

I talk about Orthodoxy a lot because my wife and I attended an Orthodox parish for a while, and quite frankly, were amazed by the difference between Orthodoxy and the church life we had both had for the last several years. I think that difference was made all the more pronounced for me because I had really only attended one church in my life and it was heavily influenced by the seeker-sensitive/Willowcreek model. I would not describe myself as an inquirer into Orthodoxy at this point, since I am employed by a Protestant church, but I must admit a certain fascination with it. Basically, right now I am trying to let the thought & life of the ancient church inform my thinking & prayer about my current ministry and to shape me personally. I prefer not to identify either my denomination or my church for personal reasons.

Nathan said...

DD & Karl -

I think your parishes sound a great deal like the parish my wife & I attended - it seemed that there were many, many volunteers and that most of the people felt intimately involved in the life of their local church. I think Bill is setting up a false dichotomy, or at least using inappropriate terms to describe his categories. "Clergy controlled church" seems to have certain negative connotations (particularly coming from the seeker-sensitive model) that really aren't all that true in reality.

Karl Thienes said...

Correction: I wrote, "yet doesn't let others utilize their gifts within the family/..."

That should read, "yet DOES let others..."
Good grief!

"I would not describe myself as an inquirer into Orthodoxy at this point...but I must admit a certain fascination with it..."

I hate to tell you but that makes you an inquirer! :)

Anonymous said...

I like Karl.