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"Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure" by J.R. Briggs
By David von Schlichten

Fail:

Finding Hope and Grace

In the Midst of Ministry Failure

by

J.R. Briggs

foreword by Eugene H. Peterson

(IVP Books, 2014, $16)

 

 

            After seventeen years of full time parish ministry, I left to become a full time professor. At the end of my time in the parish, I did not feel satisfaction over a job well done. Instead, I felt like a failure. Nothing disastrous had happened. In fact, our finances remained sound my entire time there (even during the Recession of 2008), and we continued to perform loving acts for one another and the community. However, while we were doing good work, we weren’t doing anything that any outsider looking in would consider remarkable. Throughout those years, I would attend synodical gatherings and other events where I would hear of great success stories and of all the things we should be doing as a congregation. Then I would return to faithful, plugging-along Saint James and run through my mental checklist of all that we were not doing. Add that list to our declining attendance during my last four years there, and it is easy to see why I left that congregation feeling like a failure.

            I’m guessing that some of you can relate to all this.

            J.R. Briggs certainly can and thus has written an intriguing and somewhat helpful book, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure. I bought this book to help me cope with my feelings of failure.

            What I found most helpful was the reassurance that I was not alone. Of course I knew that many pastors suffer from burnout and that, in an age of growing secularism and the ever-annoying “I’m spiritual-but-not-religious” designation, pastoring a congregation seems to become more difficult by the year. Nevertheless, when we humans suffer, we have a tendency to feel alone. Briggs’s book reminded me that I am not. He states that 1500 pastors leave parish ministry due to burnout or contention in the congregation every month. He then goes on to recount stories of pastors’ failings, including his own. Briggs became so concerned about feelings of failure that he created the Epic Fail Pastors Conference. He started this conference in part because he was weary of other conferences that are designed to inspire and instruct pastors toward success but that actually end up making pastors feel like failures by holding up to them all that they have not accomplished. The Epic Fail Pastors Conference was an alternative intended to revive pastors by giving them a safe place to admit to failings (real and perceived) and by reminding them of God’s grace.

            Indeed, the book’s greatest strength is its frank and thorough addressing of failure. Briggs devotes a chapter each to shame, loneliness, and all kinds of wounds. He addresses addiction. He addresses the perennial problem of congregations measuring their success according to a for-profit business model, which focuses on making money and increasing numbers. There is great comfort in reading this extensive and open description of ways large and tiny that pastors fail or think they do.

            The antidote that Briggs offers to this sense of failure is less convincing. He draws from the old stand-bys, such as that the Church is supposed measure success differently than does the for-profit business world, and that God brings healing and renewal out of our messes.

            Briggs is right, but not convincing, at least not to me. Yes, the Church is not all about numbers, but numbers do matter at least somewhat. Yes, God brings healing out of the messes, but why doesn’t he just keep the messes from happening in the first place? I know, I know. We humans have free will, so we have the freedom to mess things up.

            I feel like I am supposed to read Fail and think, “Yes, I have failed, but God still brought good out of it all.” I know that is true, but it still sounds hollow to me.

            I haven’t given up on the Church. I attend every Sunday, and often I attend twice a week. I pray daily. I lead a Bible study at the university where I teach.

            But I still feel like a failure. Briggs’s book is more helpful at giving voice to the problem than at articulating a solution. Still, that voice to the problem is quite helpful indeed.

            




September 28, 2014, 16th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 21, Year Ah
By

September 28, 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 21, Year A

 

Call to Worship

Leader: They rejected John, and then they rejected Jesus.

People: We mean to follow Christ, but sometimes we are also guilty of rejection.

Leader: Just as Christ self-emptied in the name of serving God,

People: so also are we to self-empty.

Leader: We embrace the Mother.

People: We pour ourselves out and follow the Three-in-One. Yes!

Invocation

God, we thank you for not giving up on us even when we have given up on you. Refresh us with your generous love. Renew our dedication to you. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Mother, we sin against you every day. We are stubborn about listening to you messengers. Often we turn our backs to you. We blame our forebears for our problems instead of taking responsibility for our sins. Rather than emptying ourselves, we stuff our bellies. You call us to obey, but we’d rather be our own boss.

For the sake of the Rock, forgive us. Please. Yes.

Words of Assurance

Alleluia! Because of Christ’s blood, the Mother forgives us. The water flows from the rock. Alleluia!

Prayer of Inspiration

Holy Spirit, hollow us out. Refill us.

Prayers of the People

Father, we exalt you for the Church, from the humble St. Francis of Assisi to the translator St. Jerome, to St. Michael and all angels. God, by your authority (congregational response: we are healed.).

Mother, we thank you for our nation and your magnificent creation. Direct us toward peace overseas and at home. Lead us to be better about conservation and sustainability. God, by your authority . . .

Adonai, we thank you for our Jewish siblings. Bless them as they prepare for Yom Kippur. God, by your authority . . .

Lord, autumn is here, and we love it! God, by your authority . . .

We thank you, Creator, for our pets. Increase our willingness to care for them according to their needs, not according to our wants. God, by your authority . . .

Elohim, heal all we mention [Add names]. Humble us to be your healing helpers. God, by your authority . . .  

You may add other praises and petitions here.

In Jesus’ name we turn these prayers over to you. Amen.

Offertory Prayer

Accept these fruits for your glory.

Benediction

Leader: By the Three-in-One’s authority

People: we commit ourselves to Christ. Yes!

 

David von Schlichten, poedifier




September 21, 2014, 15th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20, Year A
By David von Schlichten

September 21, 2014

15th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20, Year A

 

Call to Worship

Leader: God, Three-in-One, shows mercy even to people we think deserve wrath.

People: The last will be first, and the first will be last.

Leader: We are not to be envious because Christ is generous toward those we regard as undeserving.

People: Truth be told, we are all undeserving.

Leader: Just as our Mother has shown mercy to the Ninevites and those who repent last-minute,

People: so also are we to show mercy toward one another.

Invocation

Munificent Abba, you are quick to forgive us. Humble us to forgive one another, including people who wish to kill us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Father, our sins! So many! We cling to grudges. We demonize people different from ourselves. We consider it acceptable to kill our enemies instead of working harder to find peaceful solutions to crises. We grow indignant when someone receives a break that we don’t think she or he deserves.

For the sake of the Messiah, forgive us.

Words of Assurance

Rejoice! Just as God showed compassion for the people and animals of Nineveh, so also does God show you compassion. Your sins: gone. You receive a full day’s wage, because of Christ. Yes!

Prayer of Inspiration

Holy Spirit, show us.

Prayers of the People

Mother, in gratitude for the Church and all its saints, including Matthew the Evangelist, we pray. (Congregational response: Your compassion is boundless.)

Abba, for our nation and your entire creation, that we may all strive together for non-violent solutions to problems, we pray . . .

Allah, for the end of the terror that ISIL wields, that the loss of life may cease and the healing from love may be ceaseless, we pray . . .

Elohim, in gratitude for the beginning of autumn, a season rich for senses and soul, we pray . . .

Everlasting, for the healing of those in need [Add names] we pray . . .

You may add other praises and petitions here.

In Jesus’ name we give thanks for your answers to our prayers. Amen.

Offertory Prayer

Accept this portion of the harvest you make possible.

Benediction

Leader: You have forgiven our trespasses, Father, Son, and Spirit,

People: so we go to forgive one another. Yes!

 

David von Schlichten, poedifier




A Choir of Witnesses
By Randy Saultz

Ben Witherington dedicated one of his earlier works to New Testament scholars Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier for their labors in study and in the service of God.  He concludes “may their tribe increase.”  After Witherington’s book, The Indelible Image, lets just state the obvious “the tribe has increased.”  This is exciting reading.  It is difficult to point out highlights because they occur on nearly every page.

The Indelible Image is written after 25 years of exegesis.  After thinking long and hard about the use of the OT in the NT, about ancient rhetoric, about narrative theology, about divine revelation, and a host of related subjects.  After a substantial commentary on every book in the New Testament.  Volume one is expositional and focuses on the individual witnesses.  One of the joys of this work is that he allows the witnesses to speak for themselves.  Another is that he is attentive to lesser discussed portions of the New Testament.

The sub-title is The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament.  As the sub-title suggests, Witherington writes with the conviction that ethics and theology intersect with one another.  Since this connection between ethics and theology has not been treated significantly, this work will likely form its own niche.

This intersection of ethics and theology is visible “Just as when one looks on the Son, one sees the splitting image of the Father, so too when one looks on the spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus, one ought to be able to see the image of the Son.”

Of course, not everyone will want to pick up this two-volume set.  Volume one alone is 818 pages long.  As unbelievable as it may sound, biblical theology is not everybody’s choice reading.  To curb this somewhat, Witherington plans a one volume work for a broader audience in the future.

Witherington himself desires that we read as if the individual witnesses were a choir.  All sing the same cantata.  Each witness sings their own part.  It is the task of volume one to listen to all the voices.  The second volume will then attempt to re-create what this choir might sound like if they had ever gotten together and performed their scores as a single, masterful cantata.  I find myself eager to pick up volume two and listen to that score.





By David von Schlichten

Chris Rodell's "Use All the Crayons!: The Colorful Guide to Simple Human Happiness" (2012, iUniverse) is an entertaining book that offers some worthwhile ideas about how to increase happiness for oneself and others.

Rodell argues that, if a person is more colorful, then s/he will have a positive impact on others that will increase their happiness. He offers 501 suggestions, some silly, some serious. He intersperses among those suggestions humorous stories from his life that amplify how a person can be more colorful.

Several of the suggestions are religious. For instance, Rodell recommends that a person go to church and listen thoughtfully to the sermon. While the book is far from religious--indeed, at at times, it is quite irreverent--it is clear that Rodell is spiritual and recognizes the value of a well-developed spiritual life.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten




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