Churchcraft

It’s more than just possessing the “soft skills.”

By Marion Aldridge

I have coined a new word: Churchcraft.

What I mean by Churchcraft is an individual’s ability to say and do the things that will help to build the organized church. My observation is that a lack of Churchcraft is the number one reason churches and pastors fail.

In the 20th century, I might have called it churchmanship. Some people think I am referring exclusively to the “soft skills” that pastors, staff and laity need for a church to succeed — the ability to negotiate, to compromise, to listen, to sell an idea, to understand limits, to provide leadership, to exhibit social graces — and I do mean those. God help the church whose pastor, staff or lay leadership are bulls in a china shop.

But Churchcraft is much more. It is also means:

• The ability to conceive, develop, implement and evaluate an event.
• The ability to create a plan to overcome a budget deficit.
• Time management, showing up, being on time, finishing a task.
• Work ethic.
• Knowing when to speak prophetic and challenging words and when to say pastoral or encouraging words.
• Understanding congregational history, and the ability to recognize congregational land mines.
• The ability not to create congregational land mines.
• Making sure that buildings are maintained.
• Discovering and honoring appropriate congregational rituals.
• Knowing when new skill sets are needed and then learning them (or enlisting someone who has them).
• Understanding when you need to recruit volunteers and then delegating responsibility to them.

I could write a book about this subject. The two most common enemies of Churchcraft are probably (1) ego, which is a character issue, and (2) lack of intelligence, which is a capacity issue.

That ego is a problem is obvious. When a pastor, a deacon chair or a Sunday school teacher thinks he or she is always right, there is no room for growth, change or compromise. Absolute certainty may be good for some things but it is rarely helpful in a Baptist congregation. We have all heard of or experienced ecclesiastical horror stories about men or women who were willing to split a church over the color of the carpet.

One way of expressing this predicament is by asking, “Is this the hill I want to die on?” or “Is this the hill I want this church to die on?” (which helpfully reminds us that Jesus’ death on the cross was for the salvation of the world and not about the color of the carpet).

The other enemy of good Churchcraft is ignorance. Some men and women cannot hold complex thoughts in their minds. Their world is black and white, all or nothing, right and wrong, good and evil, and anyone who thinks differently than they do they believe to be demonic. Even when I am right, surely there is something I can learn from the “opposition.” Some people, even in the church, do not have the gift of empathy. These people should not be elected as congregational leaders.

I grew up in the era of Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically challenging America, and we needed to be challenged. In the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” he spoke passionately against “gradualism.” However, when the Deep South finally integrated, the NAACP adopted a policy of gradualism, of incremental change.

The alternative to incremental change is revolution. Jesus, of course, was (and is) a radical, and not the best example of someone working within an institution. He preached utter and immediate transformation, and he was murdered. Christians, according to Reinhold Niebuhr, need to make a personal decision about whether they will be prophetic (and likely end up as martyrs) or, alternatively, work within the system.

“Administration,” according to St. Paul, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12: 28). Some people are called to hang in there with the spiritual skill of organizational leadership. Pastors and staff must have this gift and hopefully, every church will have laity who are able to take the long view.

Gossips, saboteurs, blamers, second-guessers, the ignorant, the clueless (which is a different kind of ignorance), the petty, the irresponsible and the fearful do not have either the capacity or the character to possess Churchcraft. Churchcraft involves building coalitions of very different people. Any pastor who doesn’t pay attention to choirs and to the people who love music is foolish. A good church leader tries to make a place, even in the most conservative congregations, for the boundary-stretching rowdiness and challenges of the younger generation. Any pastor or deacon chair who does not know congregational members have different collegiate and political loyalties is naïve.

Saints and Sinners! Maybe one of the best descriptions of a successful Christian congregation is that it is full of grace and radically inclusive.

I never said Churchcraft was easy, just that it is necessary.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.