Monday, April 13, 2015

When Your Allegiance Lies Elsewhere

There's something I've wondered about, here in this odd new net-era.   It has to do with the relationship pastors have with the communities they serve, and how that relates to the communities that form here in the interwebs.

Here we are in an era when we can shape and structure our networks of relationship any which way we please.  We can, if we so choose, seek out exactly the gatherings that affirm us, and only the circles in which we are surrounded by like-voices.

It is true for all net-connected souls, and that means it is also true for those who are called to shepherd faith gatherings.

We are, after all, professionals.  And so we must, like other professionals, be aware of the professional norms of our vocation.  We trundle off to conferences, and gather in conclaves, and nod earnestly in seminars.  For those in denominational structures, we sit in meetings and on committees and in councils.

In those places, we both learn our craft and create relationships.  This is a good thing.  Those relationships create the interconnection between communities that are the sinews and connective tissue of the body of Christ.  We become "relational" and "connectional," to use the Ptydepe groupspeak of my own denominationalese.

And those connections can be vital for both individual pastors and the church, because organic, local community can at times bear with it all of the frustrations of organic human relationships.  Life together means life through times of hardship, and times of hardship place stressors on every form of relationship.  Communities can be working through disagreement, or financial challenges, or interpersonal crises, or any of the things that strain both organizations and human relationships.

And when you're in leadership in such a place, seeking support and knowledge from networks outside in those times of struggle is helpful.  Necessary, even.  A pastor who has no supportive relationships outside of their congregation can easily be compromised when things get rocky or toxic.

But like so many good things, I wonder if within the goodness itself lies the possibility of our hubris, deepened by the always-on connection facilitated by social media.

Because in this new age of mediated relating, we can pour ourselves more deeply into the place of our choosing.  We can turn our energies towards the easier relation of our net-connection, and away from the more complex relationships of our face-to-face gatherings.   Rather than overcoming conflict, we can avoid it, or complain about it.  Rather than dealing directly with the ones around us, we can turn our energies, affection, and allegiance to those who always affirm us.

"I can be my true self around you guys," we say, "not like I have to be with them."

And you can be connected, always and every day, with those who are not part of your organic community.  You can seek that seeming perfection, that ideal Platonic-form place of like-thinkness, and live in it.  Within that social construction, the flaws and imperfections of your messier face-to-face relations can be cast into stark relief.  Those souls and that community seem so much worse, so inferior, so much less where you want to place your energy.

Again, they become a "them."  Not an "us."  Not a "we."

And when a living community has become a them to you, an Other in which you have only a formal connection, something essential has been lost.  From that place, it can become easier and easier to gossip or bully or sabotage, to allow whatever shreds of authenticity you share to be buried away, and to lose sight of the goal of not just being "staff," but being a follower of Jesus along with all those around you.

Not just the ones you hand pick.  But the ones you are with.  Even if they make you crazy sometimes, like those [gosh-darned fornicating male offspring of female dogs] in Corinth used to make the Apostle Paul crazy sometimes.  

I do not know if this is so, if the relation between a pastor and a faith community can be negatively impacted by the false perfection of mediated relationships.

But I wonder about it.