April 5, 2022

Ask the Big Questions

The Episcopal Church needs to ask bigger questions.

Pastoral training has long taught us to look for the bigger questions: Is this person really upset about the color of the new carpet or does this person feel that too much is changing too quickly? Is this person really angry about last week’s sermon or is there something going on at home?

We are more effective pastors when we identify underlying issues and address them directly. The same principle applies when we take our place in the councils of the church: If we ask the bigger questions, we will get better results.

I recently gave an Adult Forum presentation about the upcoming General Convention. At the time, 196 resolutions had been filed and more than three months remained until the resolution filing deadline. (For you statisticians out there, that works out to an average of no more than twelve minutes of legislative session time per resolution filed to that point!) As I shared some of the specific resolutions that our churchwide leaders will discuss this summer, I tried to identify the bigger questions that were at play. For example…

  • Four or five resolutions focus on adaptive change, church planting, and congregational revitalization. The bigger, more important question here is: How shall we prepare our church for the future? (My own thoughts on this question can be found here.)
  • Several resolutions address Anti-Racism training, affirm Beloved Community and Common Ground, and offer support to Episcopal HBCUs. Together, these resolutions ask: What are we going to do about the sin of institutional racism?
  • A series of resolutions has to do with screening in the ordination process, consent in the episcopal election process, and the procedure for receiving clergy from other traditions. The underlying question: Who will lead us?

It is easy to poke fun at the General Convention – a legislative body more than twice the size of the United States Congress – and the cornucopia of resolutions it considers. But, these bigger questions are exactly what the church needs to be considering at this important moment in our history. These bigger questions deserve the attention of our best minds and a lot more than twelve minutes of floor time.

I have long given up hope that the General Convention will focus its attention on the forest rather than the trees, but perhaps our dioceses and congregations can.

Our congregations will be stronger if our vestries spend less time talking about annual stewardship and more time talking about long-term sustainability. Our dioceses will be stronger if our conventions spend less time talking about internal governance and more time talking about the impact we can make on the community.

Let’s ask the bigger questions and see if that might not lead us to better solutions.