Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Develop a Culture of Gratitude

Congregations sometime can spiral down into a culture of complaint. A few individuals who like to complain about everything bring down the congregation with negativity. Most people usually do not know how to respond to this. Often, statements of negativity toward the pastor or the leadership go unchallenged. This ends up being destructive to the congregation and its ministry.

About midway through my ministry, I heard an excellent piece of advice to respond to this spiral of negativity. Begin to develop within the leadership, and among people who do love their congregation and who are loved and respected members, a conscious and conscientious culture of gratitude.

It is quite simple. When someone makes a generalized complaining statement in a committee or a group about the church or its leadership, respond with specific things that are positive about the congregation. Negativity can be turned around when people speak out positively, immediately, and specifically. For every negative, respond with three positives.

Our denomination has been under attack for some time by outside groups such as the IRD (who I have been posting about recently) and the Layman. Most of this negativity goes unanswered. When people do not respond to this negativity it spirals. It is as disastrous for a denomination and its ministries as it is for a local congregation.

Recently the Layman has been attacking Presbyterian Disaster Assistance with unfounded accusations and innuendos.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the best things the PC(USA) has going. If you are unfamiliar with the PDA, check out its website and get involved.

A few weeks ago, Jim Kirkpatrick of our presbytery's campus ministry, offered a slide show of what campus students have been able to do in the gulf because of the PDA. They have taken several trips to the Gulf and have made a difference in the lives of real people. Jim said that the people who have been hit by the ravages of Katrina are most especially grateful to see the PDA.

Thanks to Candy Reid, program director of Peace River Presbytery for this letter today to the Layman:

I usually just read your articles and shake my head and move on, but this article on the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance could not be ignored.

You see, our area received much help from PDA when, in 2004, Hurricane Charlie devastated our area. Hurricane Charlie blew through our area on Friday, Aug. 13. Many, many folks lost their homes or their homes were severely damaged. We could not locate folks in many churches. Six of our churches were badly affected, with First, Punta Gorda losing their whole building. Chapel by the Sea effectively had the gulf sand and water "relocated" to their sanctuary.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, as we gathered together, dirty because there was no water or electricity, we did so with PDA staff present in the most severely hurt areas. They offered hope and financial gifts immediately.

On Monday, Aug. 16, our presbytery was overwhelmed with help of all kinds from PDA. This help continued for the next two-and-a-half years with many, many monetary gifts but, more important, gifts of self through personnel, volunteers and direction. We could not have recovered with the help of PDA.

For you to continue to attack the work of PDA is an outrage. How can you continue to find fault with the Presbyterian Church (USA) over and over again is beyond me. But how dare you suggest that money is not being spent in the right way. You go and work and see what is done and learn how you have to figure how to stretch the dollars to get the most help for people. Talk to others who have worked in the Gulf Coast and in Peace River Presbytery. We in Peace River Presbytery are grateful for the work of PDA and the PCUSA.

Candy Reid
program coordinator
Peace River Presbytery

It is time for people to speak up for our denomination and for the good work it does, such as the work of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We can turn negativity into positive action.

10 comments:

  1. I think you're right, John. Gratitude is a warm, positive feeling. Positive statements do counter negative ones. Without a doubt, the focus of the IRD and Layman is negative and devisive.

    I often like to think that the language of the beatitudes provides the basis for an appropriate response...but other times, I slip and mocking becomes irresistible.

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  2. John,

    Having seen first hand the effect that complaining can have on a church I heartily agree that any steps that one can take to minimize this.

    However, at some point in you post you seem to transition from "a few individuals who complain about everything" to addressing those who are critical of the PCUSA.

    The question is, where is the line? When does legitimate criticism cross over into generalized negativity? For your consideration I submit the following. From what little I have seen regarding the PDA response, the concern is what has been done with the donations for hurricane relief. If in fact the PDA, has done with the donations what they said they would, then those who are attacking it will be shown to be wrong. While I am sure that many good things have been done, IF they have misused or misrepresented what the funds were to be used for then they should have to answer for their conduct. If the IRD likewise does something wrong (I don't know enough about what they do to come up with an example) then, they should be held to the same scrutiny.

    Ultimately you diminish your legitimate point by posting it here among your own litany of complaints, and that's too bad.

    Consider the following:

    "12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13"It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,'[a] but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'[b]" Matthew 21

    15On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:
    " 'My house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations'[c]? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'[d]" Mark 11

    45Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 46"It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'[c]; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'[d]" Luke 11


    13"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.[c]

    15"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

    16"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' 17You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' 19You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.

    23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

    25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

    27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

    29"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

    33"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Matthew 23

    It doesn't sound like Jesus, had a problem complaining or criticizing those who deserved it.

    Nor did he have a problem extending love and mercy to those who needed it. Maybe that's the problem on both sides, not enough mercy and love being demonstrated.

    Here's a challenge, the next time you post something negative, allow someone to post three positive things, and you do the same.

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  3. "The question is, where is the line? When does legitimate criticism cross over into generalized negativity?"

    If it is true, based on fact, and not a distortion of fact, then it is a legitimate concern. It should be addressed immediately, through either church or civil court. If there is an issue of mishandling funds, then those with information about that should file a formal complaint.

    General negativity attacks the character of the leadership to create an atmosphere of distrust and disillusionment.

    "IF they have misused or misrepresented what the funds were to be used for then they should have to answer for their conduct."

    Absolutely. In fact, one can go to the PDA website and they report fully on how funds are used all over the world. If they have done something wrong then file charges. Don't just complain about it, do something.

    "Ultimately you diminish your legitimate point by posting it here among your own litany of complaints, and that's too bad."

    Here is the deal Craig. I am a minister of the PCUSA. I have taken vows to support it. I have taken no vows to support outside entities such as the Layman, the IRD, More Light Presbyterians or whomever. The PCUSA is my family. When outsiders attack my family, I will fight back tooth and claw.

    You have it wrong. This is not two sides. These are outside groups bringing down our common household.

    They are lying and misrepresenting the good work of the PDA.

    Thanks for the quotes from Jesus.

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  4. John,

    I appreciate your concerns, and your support of the PCUSA. I wonder if you are as critical of TAMFS and More Light as you are of the Layman and IRD. As I see it they are essentially performing the same role of each extremes, and each is equally (to the extent they do something worthy of criticism) deserving of criticism. As I said if they are in fact misrepresenting the work od the PDA, then the truth is there for all to see and they will be discredited, if the truth shows otherwise, I assume you will be in the forfront of those calling for reform of the PDA. (again, I don't know the particulars and they really aren't important in this instance) It does actually sound as if we almost agree on this, will wonders never cease.

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  5. Thanks Craig,

    "...if the truth shows otherwise, I assume you will be in the forfront of those calling for reform of the PDA."

    You bet. There is a huge difference between doing some wrong (ie. legally) and making decisions that some do not like. The Layman doesn't like the decisions of the PDA, apparently because they don't know how it works.

    "I wonder if you are as critical of TAMFS and More Light as you are of the Layman and IRD. As I see it they are essentially performing the same role of each extremes, and each is equally (to the extent they do something worthy of criticism) deserving of criticism."

    I will state the obvious. I certainly resonate more with MLP and TAMFS than with the Layman and IRD.

    However, the PC(USA) is what I have vowed to uphold.

    It is certainly possible that my point of view blinds me to the truth of the matter.

    That said, I think there are number of distinctions.

    1) Sheer amount of and source of funding. This is the difference between Bob and Jane's Country Store and Wal-Mart.

    2) MLP and TAMFS are particularly focused on removing the barriers that prevents qualified lgbt people from ordination. The Layman and the IRD are focused on a major overhaul of the denomination (in the IRD's case, other mainline denominations as well). For them, the lgbt issue is used as a wedge for a larger agenda.

    3) MLP and TAMFS do not want those who disagree with them out of the denomination. They simply want to serve it. They do not (as far as I know) advocate the withholding of funds to the PC(USA), attack the character of the leadership of the PC(USA) and its programs, encourage congregations to leave the PC(USA), and file complaints through the church court system to hassle others with whom they disagree. All of these things the IRD and Layman do on a regular basis.

    4) MLP and TAMFS really like the PC(USA) and its ministry. This is the odd thing, really. The Layman and the IRD are winning (at least in regards to lbgt issues). Restrictions against lgbt people are more stringent now than they have ever been. Here are folks who are discriminated against and denied the capacity to serve and they, from what I gather, actually appreciate the denomination as a whole. Whereas the Layman and the IRD attacks the denomination that officially agrees with their position against lgbts. Go figure.

    5) The previous point tells me that the Layman and the IRD will never be satisfied until everyone who doesn't agree with them (not only on lgbt issues, but a myriad of other things) is either forced out or forced to conform to their beliefs and practices. They will continue to attack the denomination, its staff, and its programming, gloat in the financial struggles of the PC(USA), and seek to hurt the PC(USA) financially until it crumbles.

    I believe in the PC(USA). I think that its social witness is carrying out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I believe that its programs such as the PDA (among many others) do good things for our world.

    I believe that critical thinking regarding Christian origins, biblical studies, and theological exploration is good and healthy.

    I am pleased that I was educated in a PC(USA) seminary that taught critical thinking and did not educate people to mouth creeds.

    Perhaps most importantly, I believe in our polity. We have a constitution. If people don't like the decisions, they can serve. We have a process of change. The General Assembly is not some entity "out there." It is us.

    The issue with the Layman and the IRD is that with all of their money, their postures of attack, they are not convincing when it comes down to specific issues and with working with the diversity that is the PC(USA).

    Chronic complainers rarely serve on the session of a church even if asked. They find it more profitable for their cause to throw stones from the outside and create dissension.

    I think the answer to chronic complaining is specific, immediate, and positive affirmation of the church that is under attack.

    The difference between MLP, TAMFS on one hand, and the IRD and the Layman on the other, is the difference between the desire to build up and the desire to tear down.

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  6. John,

    Thanks for the response, I don't really resonate with any of the organization, although I do regularly read the Layman for their perspective on life in the PCUSA, as well as other sources. I probably lean more toward that side of things in some areas.

    You mentioned a lot of issues, let me try to condense. I think (from their perspective) that all thr groups mentioned are trying to effect what they consider "positve" change within the PCUSA. Obvioulsy there is disagreement as to what constitutes "positive" (we are both aware of what those are). I don't care enough about any of the organizations to delve into their funding, size etc. As you pointed out they all have to play within the polity of the PCUSA if they want things to change. Again if any of the orginizations steps out of bounds they deserve whatever they get.

    As far as the distinctions, yes they exist, I would not agree with your phraseology, but can live with it for the purposes of this discussion.

    I will say regarding your comment about withholding funds, I assume that you are referring to the voluntary "per capita" "contribution", it is currently the position of the PCUSA that this is the case. Obviously you cannot withhold something that is voluntary. I personally, think that the PCUSA is wasting a significant amount of the funds it recieves, and that withholding per capita is a legitimate way to voice a congregations displeasure. The churches I know of who are withholding or considering withholding, are either directly supporting local PCUSA churches or missions, or are escrowing the funds for support of either the PCUSA or other causes. In any case I believe that this is something on which reasonable people can disagree.

    My personal preference in involvement in missional activities, is less institutional and more relational (not that the two are exclusive. That's just my preference. I also, think that (almost by definition, and I'm sure there are exceptions) the overhead cost of doing this kind of stuff through a denominational structure is going to be higher. Again, this is personal preference, not something I would mandate.

    To reiterate, I completely agree with your stance on complainers.

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  7. Thanks Craig,

    I appreciate your views.

    Peace,
    j

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  8. John,

    Lets quit while were agreeing. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

    Craig

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  9. I feel I need to underline John's point about the false equivalency between groups like the PLC (which publishes the Layman), the IRD and particularly the New Whineskins, who are actively fomenting schism, and groups like TAMFS, Covenant Network and More Light that are working to change the church through legitimate use of the church's own polity as set out in the constitution.

    There is a significant difference here. Let's not pretend that Covenant Network and New Wineskins are two "extremes" of the same issue. They're not.

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  10. Indeed flycandler...

    And let's not forget the other significant difference. As we've seen in several posts here recently, the PLC and IRD regularly play pretty fast and loose with those pesky things some of us like to refer to as "facts". I have yet to see anything like that from MLP, etc.

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