The Orthodox Leader

Archive for December, 2009

The Business of the Church – Part 2

without comments

To continue the previous post on the “business” of the Church, I begin by saying that the emphasis of this particular reflection is not on tithing. Rather, the interest is on the perils of distractions within the Church corporate, at the parish, diocesan, and jurisdictional levels.  It is a distraction when we, with the complicity of our leaders (clergy and lay), have a Church life dominated by festivals, building programs, hall rentals, and semi-annual golf tournaments.

These things are distractions because they are all inward-looking. They set up a virtual mirror where we preen and think about our infrastructure and our “stuff” rather than caring for those in our midst and proclaiming the Gospel. (NB: Oftentimes, caring is proclaiming, only with a whisper. Whom do you know that could use a helping hand?) God repeatedly rebukes such introspection. The entire Old Testament account of God’s refusal to sanction the building of a permanent Temple prior to Solomon suggests that the Israelites were to live first as God’s faithful, as the seed of Abraham in which “shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3). In short, if we are spending all of our thinking time on something other than being lights to the world, we’re not shining very brightly.

Mark Phinney has noted, in comments on a previous post, that he feels personal spiritual development and formation are the number one leadership issue facing the Orthodox Church in North America. I agree. We would make significant headway against our ills with real spiritual development. The difficulty is that there are a lot of things that masquerade as spiritual development, these distractions being chief among them. It is terribly easy to spend all our time thinking about and working on these side projects while telling ourselves that these efforts are spiritual labors and, worse, beating up those who challenge that thinking. Salvation will not be found in a balance sheet.

True spiritual development, and a fundamental aspect of the business of the Church, not only begins but continues with a real look inward, with repentance. It is time to stop berating those prophets who remind us that our distractions are not the same thing as the Gospel and instead heed them. Repentance is the looking inward that leads outward, for it is with the eyes of repentance that we truly live and share the life in Christ. Such sharing is the true business of the Church.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

December 14th, 2009 at 10:08 am

The Business of the Church – Part 1

with 2 comments

And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. John 2:13-17

The money changers and sellers of livestock (for sacrifices) started out with perfectly good and helpful intentions, helping those who were sometimes coming from great distances to visit the Temple to make sacrifice, and, in the process, paying the Temple tax.

The benign enterprise, however, grew into something that no longer existed for the sake of God’s people. It came to exist for its own sake. What started as what could be termed, loosely, as a ministry to people became a profit and loss equation. At that point, the Temple served only as a “house of merchandise.” Such a transformation is perverse, a form of idolatry where the object of interest isn’t God but something else.

I submit that a similar affliction exists among the Orthodox of North America. Fundraisers for specific needs, building programs, church ministries are established, but then things change over time. The fundraiser comes to be used for general needs and even exists as an ongoing venture. (How big is the fundraiser line item in the church budget?) The building program is established for the sake of a beautiful edifice, but, then, how much of the parish’s time, money, and energy is then diverted away from mission as a result? How often are visitors viewed, not as souls, but as contributors to our debt service?  Concerning our ministries, how many of them exist because we dare not cease funding a program, even one that distracts us from what we are supposed to be doing as Church?

For the sake of mission, it’s time to stop looking inward, to end the focus on the profit/loss equation in whatever form, and to start (or restart) looking outward. To depend on fundraisers for parish support is to transfer our personal financial responsibility to other people. These “other people” are often the very ones who should be recipients of our evangelism rather than our secular marketing. To establish a building program (concomitantly incurring large amounts of debt) or an athletic league because doing so “will attract people” or for any reason other than building up the faithful is to see people as numbers rather than individuals made in the image of God.

I realize that, in saying these things, some of my own clergy brethren will take exception to them. What I ask is that some Scriptures be considered: Exodus 3:22, Exodus 25:1-9, Romans 15:22-32, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. Are these inward- or outward-looking? What is the difference between Exodus 3 and the others? How do we differentiate what we do from what the money changers did?

With that, I’ll end this first installment. I also make a quiet apology for the lack of polish of this installment, which was written in haste. I did, however, wish to have a new post up for the weekend. There will be more early in the week.

In any event, please post your comments, especially if you have more Scriptures to point out. (Approvals may be slow until Saturday afternoon.)

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

December 11th, 2009 at 4:55 pm

We’re talking about leadership

with 7 comments

The Eli’s Road post has perhaps given some the impression that this blog exists to call out clergy malfeasance. It’s not. The goal is to talk about the leadership issues we’re facing as Orthodox Christians in North America. This is also not just about the hierarchs, councillors, and administrators leading from “on high.” It’s about what goes on at the parish level, too. Every parish has leaders. What challenges are they facing, and how can they lead more effectively?

Off the top of my head, some of the topics I plan to take up include (in no particular order):

  1. Goal-setting
  2. Financial leadership (budgeting, obligations, stewardship)
  3. Developing a sense of evangelism among both clergy and lay leaders
  4. Priorities (evangelism, programs, church building, missions, etc.)
  5. Antagonism and lay abuse of clergy
  6. Clergy compensation and its effect on leadership

(Having said that, it would seem that a leadership issue we should all be able to agree upon, is that clergy who are unfaithful or who are guilty of sexual abuse should be removed as clergy, rather than left in a position of leadership.)

I’ll ask you, the readers of this forum, a simple question: What topics would YOU like to see discussed and reflected on here? Use the comment section or the contact form .

Reminder: Please use real names (including last names) in the comment section. This is a leadership forum, so we can stand in the light. If you want to share something privately, use the contact form.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

December 3rd, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Leadership

Fr Aris on Clergy Sexual Sin

with one comment

In light of the interest that the Eli’s Road post is getting, I really should point out that Fr Aris Metrakos made many similar points over two years ago.

And all sexual misconduct deserves the maximum penalty. When persons on the bench, in the bar, or with a badge undermine the legal system they get locked up for a long time; they are held to a higher standard. Priests who are pedophiles, homosexual predators, and adulterers need to be defrocked — not only to send a message but to protect the Church and her members. Some of them need jail time too.

I even managed, quite inadvertently, to pick up his closing statement: “Sexual sin among the clergy must stop.”

The only point at which I would disagree with Fr Aris is on the second chance for adulterers. I think even one time should lead to defrocking.

However, Fr Aris deserves praise for speaking out very clearly concerning this issue. Now to get everyone else speaking and, more importantly, acting just as firmly.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

December 1st, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Posted in Moral leadership

Tagged with , ,

A (Surprised) Welcome

with 4 comments

Welcome to all those visiting from AOI and any other blogs that picked up the Eli’s Road post below. I wasn’t intending this site to be live just yet, but, like so many things, we’ll roll with it as it happens. Just ignore the unpainted wall and bare concrete floor, please. I’ll get it done as time allows.

Since there was some question about who I am, my name is Basil Biberdorf as noted on the About page. I am the assistant rector at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church (OCA) in State College, PA. My aim is not to cause a big splash. Rather, I want to talk about fundamental issues of leadership in the Orthodox Church. If a frank discussion of these topics is enough to raise the ire of Church leaders, then we have serious difficulties indeed. Most of the issues to be taken up here will not be all that explosive (I hope!).

I want all of you who have an interest in leadership issues to participate. It’s a discussion, after all, not a monologue. (Please do use real names, though. If your point is libelous, it shouldn’t be made at all. If it’s sensitive, we can discuss it via email.) So, pull up a crate (or bring your own folding chair), and have a nice visit.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

December 1st, 2009 at 11:59 am

Posted in Administrative

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