Why do churches like this one, and so many others today, fight so strenuously over tradition, only to give up their tradition a generation later? The answer is that they aren’t fighting over traditions. They are fighting over accretions. People confuse accretions with traditions, and this confusion leads to worship wars.
Adrian van Kaam, a Roman Catholic priest and spiritual writer with whom I studied in the early 1990s, describes a tradition as the body of wisdom and practices that the church passes down from age to age. It connects us to the Holy. It binds us in faith with all who have come before us. According to van Kaam, we cannot be intentional about connecting with the Holy through our practices until we are able to distinguish between what is accretional and what is foundational to a tradition.
In its original meaning, an accretion is a buildup of sediment atop a rock formation or within water or soil. The sediment is not the foundation. It is the dirt, sand, or eroded minerals that accumulate over time. We confuse this junk with a foundation because it often either surrounds a foundation or is infused in it. When it comes to religious and spiritual practices, accretions are practices that build up around a tradition and become the ways a tradition is embodied in any day and age. For example, singing to God in worship is a foundational tradition. The songs we sing, which change from era to era, are the accretions. So singing is foundational, but whether we sing classical hymns, gospel, Taizé chants, a cappella psalms, or contemporary songs, they are all accretions. Instrumental music in church is foundational, but the use of an organ is accretional. While pipe organs date back to the eighth century and have been used in cathedrals and churches for centuries, they really only came into widespread, common use in the United States between 1860 and 1920. Thus, they are part of our musical accretions, not our musical foundations.
Why are so many of us drawn towards the image of the humble &reluctant leader, and not drawn to the image of the inspired, impassioned leader with a dream? I’m aware that my own vocational story can be told from either perspective, and I most often choose to relay it through the lens of humble reluctance. Does this say something about me as an individual, about our culture, or about the times that we find ourselves in?
Here’s the bottom line. If I am a humble, reluctant leader then the primary means by which people will measure my ministry is through my faithfulness. They will admire the fact that I gave up an easier path in my determination to be faithful to God’s call on my life. They won’t really expect much from me, other than my faithfulness. On the other hand, if I tell my story through the lens of the gifted and called, passionate leader with a vision for something more for the Church and the determination to pursue that call, then I had better be prepared to deliver something substantive. It’s a lot safer to be reluctant and humble in our leadership narratives, than it is to be bold, passionate and persistent.
Would it make a difference, in this chapter of church life, if we reexamined our vocational stories and more carefully told the part of the story that focused on our pursuit and passion for ministry? Might we energize our congregations in some different ways? I wonder.
Susan Beaumont at the Alban Institute is paying attention to the larger entity in their pastoral-program-corporate church typology and offers the the following:
It’s All About Complexity
Once a congregation passes into the size zone that has traditionally been labeled “corporate,” it is already a fairly complex organizational system. In his book One Size Doesn’t Fit All (Baker Books, 1999), Gary McIntosh talks about the large church as a multiple-cell organism where:
• There are too many people to know everyone.
• There are numerous groups, classes, and cells where people can become involved. In other words, the church is a congregation of congregations.
• Church leadership is representative of several groups, classes, and cells.
It is reasonable that congregations growing beyond this attendance level will experience continued growth in the number of groups, classes, and cells that make up its ministry. It is also reasonable to expect that organizational and leadership structures will adapt themselves in predictable ways to this ever-increasing complexity.
In my work as a consultant, I’ve found that five parts of a congregational system are affected by increasing complexity and must be adapted as medium-sized and large congregations grow larger. These are:
• the organizing principle that governs adaptation and decision making
• the foundational way in which growth and assimilation are managed
• the style of pastoral leadership that works effectively
• the way in which the staff team functions
• the identity and focus of the governing board
Additionally, she identifies how the above systems flow in the multi-celled church (250-400 in worship), the professional church (400-800 in worship), and the strategic church (800-1200 in worship).
Susan Beaumont offers her insights into Large Congregations in this piece about responding to the question “shall I stay or shall I go?”
“I don’t want to stay a day longer than I ought to.”
“I don’t want to be a lame duck”
These are the two most frequent concerns I hear expressed by clergy leaders who are thinking about retiring or leaving their post. Quickly, the conversation moves away from the first question and onto the second. It’s not unusual for me to enter a congregation and have two independent conversations on the same day. First, the clergy leader approaches me and says, “I’m thinking about retiring or moving on, but I can’t discuss this with any of my lay leaders because doing so will make me a lame duck leader.” A lay leader approaches me and says, “Many of us are wondering what the pastor’s retirement plans or vocational plans are, but we can’t ask her for fear that she’ll think we want her to leave, or that she’ll become a lame duck leader once the conversation begins.” Consequently, nobody speaks about a looming departure and the anxiety level of the congregation builds.