5 Reasons Pastors Fail to Identify Flourishing From the Pulpit

If I do say so myself, Florida is the best place for flourishing to occur. Sorry, Denver; sorry, San Diego.

When Juan Ponce de León saw our lush, florid coast blooming with fecundity during the 1513 liturgical season of Pascua Florida (feast of flowers) he declared the land La Florida. As an adopted Floridian myself, I can imagine what Ponce de León saw: one of those perfect spring days with robin-egg blue skies, not a cloud to be seen, and 68 degrees with a slight, oh-so-slight breeze from the west.

Florida, florid, and flower all share the same Latin word : florereI. This is also the root word for flourishing. Flourishing best occurs in the place named for it, Florida!  Right? Right?? Well, perhaps flourishing occurs elsewhere. Perhaps.

Yet, even here in flourishing Florida I have, at times, failed to lift up flourishing. I missed opportunities to equip my congregants with a vision for the possible based on current reality. If I am hesitant at times in the land of flourishing, surely others in the faith and work movement find themselves unsure at times. We need to know the reasons for our hesitancy, and seek opportunities to overcome them in order to see flourishing flourish in our congregants and communities.

So, here are five reasons pastors fail to identify flourishing work.

#1 Unclear Definition of Flourishing

A clear operational definition of flourishing is needed in the faith and work movement. Lacking one, pastors can hesitate to get too specific in naming that which is and which is not flourishing unless the decay is obvious to all. If big problems abound in a church or business, like institutional death, bankruptcy, or moral perversion, we have no problem saying, “That church is not flourishing.” or “Change needs to happen for that business to flourish.” The issue comes when two seemingly fine people, organizations, systems, or ideas are presented that on the surface appear healthy, but in reality embody the same mix of health and disease, imago Dei and absolute depravity found in all the created order.

#2 Politics

I frequently hear my congregants in Orlando asking questions that reflect a genuine curiosity about what is true flourishing:

“Don’t you think the Republican economic platform is more Biblical than the

Democrats?”

“Is XYZ, Inc. a Christian company? If so, what is a Christian company anyway?”

“Is I-4 Ultimate [the multi-billion dollar expansion of the interstate through the heart of Orlando] a sign of a flourishing economy or the result of a carbon-addicted economy that demands the privacy and control a car affords?”

There has long been a hesitancy to identify God-ordained economic truth at work in a particular business, a certain political philosophy or party platform, or a social movement. Pastors fear division in the body of Christ due to its great diversity. I know our congregation has both Republicans and Democrats: registered voters, party activists, and elected officials on the local, state and federal level. How would one part of my church appreciate a declaration of flourishing in one political or governmental arena over another?

#3 Change Happens Fast

A pastor can hesitate to name that which is flourishing because a few days later it may not be. People are people; they make mistakes. Institutions rise and fall over the course of time. If a pastor declares with all the authority he or she may have that Sarah’s Donut Shoppe is a fine example of flourishing, and a few days later Sarah goes bankrupt, it can be embarrassing.

Additionally, people can  present themselves differently at church and to pastors than at work. I hear the gossip, and I know of those who are perceived to have two very different, if not hypocritical, personas: one for Sunday and one for weekdays. Pastors will often take the safe route and fail to lift up anything.

#4 Perception of Favoritism

The power dynamics in any church are thick and always at work. In a healthy church, pastors know how to broker that power in a way that aligns with the congregation’s values, the ecclesiological system, and the stated and unstated rules. Yet, when power is misused and unaccountable, healthy churches can quickly become unhealthy. Lifting up an individual or a business as an example of flourishing carries with it the risk of another perceiving favoritism. Then the rumor mill begins to turn. Did the pastor lift up that business because that business owner gave a fat donation? Or did the pastor hope that by lifting up that business the church might secure a fat donation? A secondary risk is hurt feelings when a person feels unnoticed or unappreciated. Pastors can avoid lifting up one for fear of hurting another.

#5 The Johnson Amendment

President Trump has spoken recently about the Johnson Amendment. This law guides the IRS to differentiate the speech and work of non-profits, like churches, from political or lobbying organizations. Trump says the amendment infringes upon first amendment rights and limits clergy speech. Pastors may clam up on social issues for fear of losing tax free status, and the ability to accept tax deductible donations. Some religious traditions, like the African American church, have found a way to regularly exercise their voice on the issues of the times. However, many mainline denominational pastors often fail to garner the courage or take the time to figure out how to speak legally for or against an issue on the ballot or a candidate. Many ballot initiatives or candidates can impact community flourishing for decades, and yet many stay silent.

These are just some of the reasons pastors fail to name that which is flourishing in order to help congregations grasp the vision and practical realities of ministry in and through the workplace. In part 2, I’ll list 7 ways to name flourishing from the pulpit, and lead congregations to imagine a new and brighter future for their communities.

Dr. Case Thorp is leader of The Collaborative for Cultural and Economic Renewal and the Senior Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.

 

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