The longer I go through this seminary process, the more I am reminded of things I learned in my past and how important they are to my future.
A big one is that the church and politics are so similar in both good and bad ways.
I won’t spend much time here, except to list some of the negatives – there’s ambition to rise from some people. There is politics in the church – both real politics and office politics. Appearances, performance, and spectacle all rear their heads from time to time. People love a speech from someone important in the church – especially if they can take a selfie with that person.
None of those should shock anyone – and they aren’t always bad. In fact, sometimes, they can be quite useful in a good way.
And there are also some positives. Again, I’ll just list them briefly – the church at it’s finest presents a vision of what can be. It can rally and motivate people to be and do things differently. The church has an organized structure that helps people to get things done.
I want to talk about this last point a bit more. I hear people complain about the structure of the church – “it is too bureaucratic.” “It prevents things from happening.” “What do those people in the central office know about our situation?” Organization has it’s positives and negatives, just like anything else. It’s a tool and if it is used effectively, can be a great tool.
I’ll take the synod structure of the ELCA for example. (That’s the church I am a part of). Does it have some challenges – sure does. Anytime people are involved, there will be challenges.
A lot of people pick on the synod. Let’s face it – it’s easy to pick on. There’s a level of authority that is within reach. Just look at the past – people want to lay blame at some level of authority higher than them. In the Lutheran Church, it’s the synod that gets the blame.
But, I want to present something a little different – a different way of looking at the synod.
For me, the synod is like a state-level political party organization. Now, hang in there for a few minutes while I make sense of this.
The state-level political party serves a few functions. 1. It’s job is to plan, prepare and carry out practical things that will fulfill the vision of the party – what it thinks is best for the country or state. 2. It actively recruits candidates who can win and in winning, can carry through the vision of the party. 3. It supports those candidates financial, with advice, guidance, staff support and other resources. 4. It provides financial and other support to the national party, so that the national party can do a similar job as the state-level party, but on a broader scale. 5. The state-level party has a chairman that becomes the spokesperson and main cheerleader and vision keeper for the party.
That’s how a state-level political party is supposed to be anyway – more like an ideal.
I could go on, but I’ll stop with five. Now, instead of party, put in synod. Instead of candidates, put in pastors.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but I would argue that it’s pretty good. And again, it’s an ideal. Politics and religion have something else in common – they have something intangible – what they sell is a vision for living. A way of expressing how society should be set up and run. This is unique to politics and religion and a reason why both of these are so close to people – if something is intangible, how it gets interpreted will vary from person to person.
As much as I keep running from my past in politics, I keep learning that this past is so very valuable for my experience in the church.
I wonder what other people would compare their church with. Tell me, I want to know.