Space for the Spirit

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


At the end of April, I will be in Detroit Michigan for two days as a member of the denomination’s General Assembly Nominations Committee. I am going to stretch my time and stay the weekend with my brother, so that I can preach at his Pentecostal church. We’ve decided to try a tag team sermon! I’m going to begin the sermon with the exegesis work, and then he is going to take it into the stratosphere with his Pentecostal emotionalism! We’ve never done this before, but we think the Spirit will be working with us and with God’s people on that day.

One of the things I enjoy about my brother’s church is the liturgy. There is an order to the service, but there is space between the liturgical pieces. I believe it is in these spaces that the Spirit moves. It is the pause after the sermon- a pause that allows for time of reflection. It is the moments after the song which gives people time to process what they have just experienced. These spaces are a testament to our limitations and God’s possibility.

In his book, Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World, Gil Rendle references John Wimmer of the Lilly Endowment in using the phrase, “Functional Atheism.” He writes, The functional atheist is the one who speaks about God as the active agent of salvation in the life of individuals and in producing a wholeness in the world but who then assumes that nothing is going to change unless and until he or she puts his or her hand (and resources) to it.”

This Lenten season I’m realizing the ways in which I am experiencing the shadow of functional atheism in my life and work. For example, I believe in strategic planning. The presbytery has goals with observable metrics. But when we believe our goals can only happen if we put our hands and resources to them, we need to be careful. When I find myself living a life that doesn’t allow space for the Spirit to work, then I may be living as a functional atheist.

We plan and we pray. We act and we believe.

This Lenten season I also find myself facing the unavoidable question of “Who is God to me now?” And “Where is God moving in my life and in this presbytery?” I am challenged to make space for the Spirit to move and lead us into our future. Gil puts it best, “The hubris of organizational leaders who fall to the trap of functional atheism, assuming that the future is to be shaped by their own hands rather than God’s, will humble even the most skilled. A significant portion of the substantive work of quietly courageous leaders is to provide for the space and learning found in the mystery of the hand of God that will not only form the world differently in the future but will also surprise us in the process.” Amen and Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

In the Neighborhood

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard, Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Vanessa has been preaching to the presbytery office for some time now that as a presbytery, we are living in resurrection, and we get to decide what that will look like. One of the consistent concerns I and the staff received is that the presbytery doesn’t care about “us.” Us could mean those in congregations further away from the office or at a distance from St. Louis; us could mean congregations with very small attendance and membership; us could mean those who are theologically more conservative.

As a result of these concerns, I and the staff have attempted various ways of connecting with and communicating with all of our congregations. We have visited more congregations. We have made ourselves available for pulpit supply, session meetings, congregational meetings, and retreats. Now, we are going to try another idea called In the Neighborhood. The entire staff will go down to Cape Girardeau and camp out at the Drury Inn right off I-55. We are inviting churches in the southern region to come by and see us. You are welcome to bring questions regarding the Stated Clerk, pastor transitions, communications, congregation development, or administration questions. It’s okay if you just want to say “hi” and meet the staff. We will be there to meet with you because we care and because you matter.

My hope is that our office becomes a model of ministry that is risk-taking and transformational. The presbytery office is evolving. We are adapting to our new reality of size, geographic location, and theological perspectives that comprise Giddings-Lovejoy. Adaptive change means tackling questions we do not know the answers to, and problems we cannot solve. What we do know is that we need to be different. If we are ever going to be different, we have to try different things. We don’t believe that everything we try will work. But we know we will learn from each experience and experiment. And that is the way it should be.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Great Man Theory


Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


In the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a series of experiments on African American children that would become known as “the doll tests.” Each child was given a set of four dolls which were identical except for their color. The children were then asked which doll they preferred. Most children preferred the white doll as opposed to a black doll. The children also attributed positive characteristics to the white doll. This demonstration of low self-esteem was strongly influenced by segregation. The supreme court case of Brown vs. the Board of Education used the doll test study as one of its reasons to strike down segregation and “separate but equal” statutes across the country.

In the book Leadership, General Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone write about the influence of Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle on the image of leadership. Carlyle created the Great Man theory. According to Carlyle “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” The authors of Leadership believe Carlyle’s erroneous notion of leadership being Male (and usually white) is with us today. They quote the New York Times in saying, “There are more CEOs named John than there are women in the top 1500 companies.” Then they write, “When people are asked to draw an effective leader, their sketch typically reflect male features, even when a woman is holding the pencil.”

When I was in seminary, I had a serious problem at my Pentecostal church, and I needed pastoral care. Rev. Deborah Block was teaching one of my classes and I asked her for an appointment. After sharing my problem, she provided excellent guidance. Afterward I said, “I can’t believe God sent me to a woman pastor for counseling, but now I see why.” I too was prejudiced against women in leadership. The “Great Man as Pastor” was placed into me from a young age. But my experience from that session with Deborah opened my eyes to my ignorance and how I’d been resisting the moving of the Holy Spirit.

The Gender Equality Task Force is doing excellent work to help us understand the unequal position of women and men in pastoral leadership in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. They have come to the realization that congregations must discard the Great Man theory. The gift of women in leadership (and gifted women in leadership) is available to all congregations, no matter the size or geographic location. The future of the church is a future of diversity. Male and female pastoral leadership is required to take us into God’s vision for the church, and Giddings-Lovejoy.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Life Realignment


Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


The other day while driving to the office, as I turned onto Olive off of 270, I felt the crash of my tire hitting a pot hole. It happened so fast. First the front tire and then the back. I fumed at the thought of a bent tire rim or my wheels getting out of alignment. Fortunately, neither of those happened. I only lost the cap off my front rim.

As we go through the year, we hit lots of pot holes in our lives. The cumulative spiritual damage is expressed in our lack of patience with one another and dimming hope for a positive outcome in our lives and our church. Lent is the time of realignment. Through 40 days of prayer and spiritual disciplines, we are able to commune with God and reset our faith walk again.

Each Lent I read a book a week as part of my discipline. My topics are a mix of scripture, leadership, creativity, and race in America. Each year I approach my reading with excitement and anticipation. I wonder what I will learn, how I will apply it, and most of all, “What is God saying to me at this point in my life journey?”

I am sharing my titles in case you want to read along with me. I find my books throughout the year from websites, footnotes of other readings, various book lists, and recommendations from friends.

As we journey through Lent this year, may we be driven into the mission God has for us in the coming Christian year.

Figuring– Maria Popova. Maria writes the blog, Brain Pickings. She describes her book this way: “It explores the complexities, varieties, and contradictions of love, and the human search for truth, meaning, and transcendence, through the interwoven lives of several historical figures across four centuries.”

Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans– Randall Maurice Jelks. Randall is a brilliant African American Presbyterian who teaches history at Kansas University. “This book offers a fascinating look into the religious lives of four individuals, and Jelks also weaves his own religious narrative in and out of the stories he tells.”

Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World– Gil Rendle. I’ve walked with Gil through the writing of this book. We meet twice a year with three other mid-council leaders. “Gil Rendle offers practical guidance to leaders—both lay and ordained—on leading churches today.”

Leaders: Myth and Reality– Stanley McChrystal. I was inspired by General McChrystal’s previous book, Team of Teams. In this book he “profiles thirteen of history’s great leaders, including Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, and Robert E. Lee, to show that leadership is not what you think it is—and never was.”

Word that Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship– Walter Brueggemann. My spiritual director recommended this book for me, so I’m reading it!

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America– Richard Rothstein. This book is a deep analysis of how the federal government, through redlining, created the housing segregation we are still living with today.

Rev. Craig Howard