Sunday, October 31, 2010

LGBTQ Ordination Resource

Answering common arguments against LGBTQ ordination and making our own in favor of inclusion.  Each heading is a link to expanded arguments, with citations, on each point for anyone who is interested.

Answering Common Arguments Against LGBTQ Rights and Inclusion

“Homosexuality is an abomination”
The Hebrew word, [toevah], sometimes translated as ‘abomination’ or ‘detestable’, is also applied to the eating of shellfish in Levitical law, among other things, and seems to be a ritual-uncleanliness term, sometimes used to describe idolatry. Of course, it is not translated as ‘abomination’ when applied to eating shellfish, because abomination is a word specifically chosen in an attempt to paint a particular act as more heinous than the others listed in the same section of law. This is the long-standing translators’ bias impinging on the Biblical text.
Furthermore, the act described as ‘abomination’ was not describing a committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender - which was not a category considered in Bronze Age Middle-Eastern thought. Rather, the ‘abomination’ in question would have been an instance of adultery and/or having sex with ritual prostitutes.

“Homosexuality is the ‘sin of Sodom’”
The ‘sin of Sodom’ is inhospitality. Nowhere in scripture is the destruction of Sodom linked with same-sex activity of any kind. The story immediately preceding the account of the destruction of Sodom is of Abraham receiving the three strangers and being hospitable to them. This is contrasted with the reaction of the men of Sodom who seek to gang-rape the angel visitors while Lot protects them under the auspice that they have accepted his hospitality. Ezekiel, in listing the sins of Sodom lists pride, idleness, greed and inhospitality, but never mentions homosexuality. Jesus himself cites this reason by analogy claiming that the towns which are inhospitable to his disciples will end up worse than Sodom or Gomorrah. The association between Sodom and homosexuality is largely the fault of bad translation. The Hebrew word, [qadesh], meaning ‘temple-prostitute’ has often been mis-translated ‘sodomite’ though it bears no linguistic relationship to the city of Sodom.

“Homosexuality is like pedophilia or bestiality”
Pedophilia in any circumstances constitutes rape because, by legal definition, a minor cannot be a consensual sex partner. Pedophilia is also a violation by any measurement because it is forcing sexual activity on someone who is not physically or psychologically ready for it. Love and sex between two consenting adults who are the same gender has nothing to do with pedophilia whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.
Bestiality is a person having sex with an animal - this comparison is offensive, as if a same-gender partner was not even a human being. Love and sex between two people of the same gender has nothing to do with bestiality whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.

“Homosexuality is like incest or polyamory”
It must first be noted that the Bible openly approves of polyamory and does not share our modern definition of incest. Because of this fact, those wishing to make a purely “Biblical” argument should accept this as a point in favor of LGBTQ ordination. Nonetheless, this argument is false. Incest is very often also rape and sexual abuse, and in cases where it is not rape/abuse it risks offspring with severe genetic abnormalities. Incest is something that, despite the Bible, we have come to define differently and reject over time, even though royal families practiced it well into the last century. Polyamory is also something that the Bible approves of but which we reject. It is now our assumption that fidelity is best expressed, children best raised, etc. by monogamous parents. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of Americans practice serial polyamory since very few people only have sex with one marital partner in their entire lives, and this is appropriately no bar to ordination. Homosexuality is not like incest or polyamory.

“Homosexuality is unnatural”
No matter how we interpret the word “natural”, this claim is false. That homosexual activity is observed in nature among other mammals is incontrovertible. Even if no other mammal engaged in any homosexual activity, there is no question that such activity occurs among humans, meaning that it is indeed entirely “natural”.
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it does not lead to procreation, then we would have to condemn all sex that is not aimed at procreation as equally “unnatural”, and may have to consider preventing married adults who are not parents from being ordained - not to mention anyone on birth control, anyone who masturbates, etc.
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it is dangerous or perverse, we should bear in mind that there is nothing activity-wise that LGBTQ persons do that straight persons do not do in far greater numbers. Homosexuality is natural by any reasonable definition of the word.

“Homosexuality is dangerous and/or unhealthy”
As mentioned above, this argument is nonsensical because there is nothing, no specific sexual activity, that LGBTQ persons engage in which straight persons do not engage in in greater numbers. If we are going to have sexual-act litmus tests for ordination, we should at least be fair about it. But the above claim, that LGBTQ activities are somehow especially or inherently dangerous or unhealthy, makes no sense whatsoever, because there are no exclusively LGBTQ sex acts for us to consider.

“Homosexuality is a choice”
Putting the ocean of anecdotal evidence against this claim aside, there is no scientific consensus supporting the claim that homosexuality is a choice in the vast majority of cases - quite the opposite, no credible American scientific organization would support that claim. Because sexuality is more than brain chemistry, scientific studies will never tell us all we want to know about ourselves, but the evidence that homosexuality is not a choice in the vast majority of cases is consistent and overwhelming.

“Sexual orientation can be changed with ‘reparative’ therapy”
Even in cases where “reparative” therapy isn’t simply abuse, this is not true in the vast majority of cases. The fact remains that some “reparative” therapies are abusive and even criminal. Beyond Ex-Gay is one example of an organization and conference for the survivors of these therapies. Truth Wins Out is another. Attempts to change a person’s sexual identity overwhelmingly fail (except in a few rare cases), which leads to an escalation of force used by those who are committed to the false idea that a person’s sexual identity is a malfunction of some kind. This is a view that is not shared by any credible American scientific organization, and should not be encouraged by the church.

“Homosexuality damages society and/or traditional marriage”
Claims like these are actually impossible to demonstrate or prove, but they are common nonetheless - perhaps for that very reason. There is little question that fighting over homosexuality damages the members of society who are denied equal rights under the law and are treated as second-class citizens. As for marriage, we don’t think any responsible observer would attribute our current problems with marriage in the US to LGBTQ persons. There is no situation where a societal ill can be legitimately laid at the feet of the LGBTQ community, where no other causes or circumstances can be identified. The above argument is rendered meaningless, and is simply an expression of fear, or perhaps frustration, deserving a pastoral response - but not validation.
Furthermore, ‘traditional marriage’ is a recent social construct. Our contemporary romantic ideal was a terrifying innovation 100 years ago. Traditionally, marriage has involved polyandry, polygyny, surrogate pregnancy, concubinage, arranged marriages, marriage between children, and others. The Bible approves of at least 8 types of marriage, including marrying war hostages, marrying slaves, marrying up to 700 women, marrying a sibling’s widow, marrying one’s rape victim, and others. We rightly reject these many forms of ‘traditional’ marriage.

“Paul condemned homosexuality”
The passage from Romans 1 popularly cited as the most damning New Testament condemnation of Homosexuality is a warning against the dangers of self-righteousness, not a polemic against Homosexuality. If anything it ought to be read as a strong caution against the belief that we can keep the church pure by keeping the wrong kind of people out. We are all in exactly the same position before the grace of Jesus Christ and no rule, least of all one as arbitrary as G-6.0106b, can ensure the faithfulness of the body.
Furthermore, we do not support every claim we can cherry-pick from the epistles. Paul also condemns women speaking in assembly or uncovering their hair. As a church, our polity should not, and does not, depend on proof-texts lifted out of context. Rather, Paul and the early church consistently defied social boundaries as they welcomed, as equals, many excluded and supposedly ‘unclean’ persons.

“Ordaining LGBTQ people makes it harder to work with churches in the rest of the world”
To what degree are we willing to compromise our conscience and our polity for the sake of ‘getting along’? Many churches in other countries do not ordain women either - it is a fact that our ordination of women makes it more difficult to work with ultra-conservative denominations and some international churches. Shall we cease to ordain women then? There are places in Africa that are currently debating whether to jail and execute LGBTQ persons. Must we deny our reason and conscience to support jailing and executing sexual minorities as well? We are better off as a witness of justice, equality and conscience for the whole world to see. This is what the church has always been at its best, choosing the love of God for all persons over the injustices of the world, loving the unclean as Jesus did.

Arguments in Favor of LGBTQ Rights and Inclusion

Justification is by faith
Justification comes by grace through faith and not through any human effort. Establishing a suspect standard of holiness for service in the Church contradicts our confessions where we proclaim that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but equally that all have been set free from bondage to sin and death in Christ. We are freed for service - a service which we unjustly and selectively deny to some who Christ has claimed.

We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and gifted for service
The Holy Spirit is the source of all holiness. Just as we are not saved by our own effort, we do not grow in grace by our own sweat either. There are no actions of repentance, charity, or mercy that any individual could perform which would make them worthy of the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Our worthiness lies not in our personal righteousness but in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, evidenced by the gifts of the Spirit.

LGBTQ persons have clearly demonstrated spiritual gifts for ministry
There are among us at this very moment LGBTQ individuals with an interior sense of call who many have testified are gifted with spiritual charisms for ordained ministry. That there have been in the past, are currently, and will be in the future, powerful preachers, teachers, leaders, and caregivers who happen to be LGBTQ persons is amply witnessed. Since ordained ministry in the Reformed tradition is strictly a division of function, and not of holiness, there can be no justification for denying their gifts for service. With Peter we ask “surely no one can stand in the way of the Holy Spirit?”

We call unclean what God calls clean
“What I have called clean, let no one call unclean.” In the Acts of the Apostles God encourages Peter to break the Law of Moses regarding purity - God directly tells Peter to commit the ‘abominations’ of eating shellfish with gentiles. Peter’s vision is about the continuing expansion and inclusion of God’s call, begun in the OT with the many calls to hospitality and love of neighbor as well as aliens in the land. Even if we pretended that the OT condemned consensual, adult same-sex love (which it does not mention, much less condemn), that love would be right there on the table-cloth...with the shellfish. This is not Peter’s innovation, nor his revisionism, nor his denial of God’s authority, any more than it is for those who support LGBTQ rights and inclusion for now. It is merely the continuation of God’s ever-expanding call, breaking down barriers wherever the Spirit is found.

We are made a community of equals in Christ
Male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. Neither how we are born, nor who we are politically or socially organized, nor how we are economically related to each other, is to have any impact on our status as children of God in Christ. All children of God should be welcomed in ministry. We extrapolate this powerful good news in many ways already - beyond ‘Jew and Gentile’ to other races and nations; beyond ‘slave or free’ to other economic systems and injustices. The community of equals in Christ extends to LGBTQ persons as well.

Jesus is silent on homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible are loving monogamous LGBTQ relationships dealt with at all
Though Paul mentions it twice, Jesus does not talk about homosexuality at all in the Gospels that we have as canon. An argument from absence isn’t necessarily very compelling, but it is worth mentioning that for over 30 years we have energetically argued over something that the authors of the Gospels did not feel was worth mentioning even once one way or another. Paul, the first to write about Jesus whose manuscripts we have, encouraged people not to marry at all because he expected the imminent return of Jesus in his lifetime. He did not speak of committed LGBTQ relationships any more than the Hebrew scriptures did.

Our first and most important ordination is in Baptism
Our first and most important ordination is in Baptism, where we are adopted into Jesus Christ and given the ministry of every disciple. Ordination to a specific ministry in the church, whether of an Elder, Deacon, or Minister of Word and Sacrament does not confer any ontological change, override, supersede, or even amend the prior ordination into the ministry of the baptised. The distinction we make in the offices of the church is one of function and not of holiness. By saying that a baptised, called, and gifted individual is ineligible for a particular ministry by virtue of supposed insufficient holiness we are denying their Baptism. If one’s Baptism can be annulled by supposed sin, or is dependent on our effort and perfection, then we are all doomed.

The priesthood is composed of all believers
In the Reformed tradition, from the very beginning, it was understood that every believer is responsible as part of the priesthood - that priesthood was not a special ontological status conferred by the church, but was rather a general calling conferred by the grace of God on all baptised believers. The fact is that every LGBTQ Christian is already called to ministry.

Exclusion of LGBTQ persons adds nothing of value to the ordination standards we already have
Ignore for the moment that the average American becomes sexually active at 16 and gets married at 28, and that simple ‘chastity in singleness’ does not begin to address this societal reality in believers’ lives. Apart from the exclusion of LGBTQ persons from ordination, G-6.0106b does nothing whatsoever to further or deepen the Book of Order’s definition of ordained office or requirements for those seeking ordination. It can be omitted without losing anything of value.

LGBTQ persons already serve in other denominations and organizations, proving dire predictions false every day
LGBTQ persons are serving in ordained ministry in various denominations currently and the predicted denominational collapses have not taken place. The real harm is being done however by our continuing to fight over this issue, which damages the peace, unity and purity of the church particular and universal, as well as the witness of the church to the world.
Furthermore, we must never shrink from doing what is right for the sake of protecting our denomination. Even if acting justly causes a mass exodus from our denomination, that is no reason to continue to act unjustly.

No church that does not choose a LGBTQ minister, Elder or Deacon will ever have to ordain one
Even if the PC(USA) is to begin ordaining LGBTQ persons this very moment, there is no church anywhere in the denomination which would be forced to accept any particular LGBTQ pastor, Elder or Deacon against its will. It is the Presbytery’s function to examine candidates for Ministry of Word and Sacrament, and that will continue without interruption when G-6.0106b is erased from the Book of Order. The fact is that G-6.0106b does not protect anyone from anything. All it does is ensure that people who are demonstrably called to pastoral ministry are not allowed to live that calling out, and churches in need of pastoral leadership are unable to find it.

The church is currently lending tacit support to mocking, bullying, torment and exclusion suffered by LGBTQ persons
LGBTQ persons are being mocked, bullied, tormented, and discriminated against at this very moment, possibly jailed or even executed overseas. Some in recent days have taken their own lives as a direct result of this hateful treatment. Every second we fail to stand up and declare unequivocally that God loves them and they are welcome, is a second we acquiesce to bigotry and tacitly support bullies. It is time to begin undoing the harm official church policies of exclusion have wrought.

There are not even selfish reasons to retain G-6.0106b and continue to unjustly exclude LGBTQ persons from ordination. That single clause will not prevent frustrated congregations from leaving the denomination, nor will it convince parishioners frustrated with decades of conflict over this issue to remain. It will not maintain even a veneer of peace, unity and purity in the church. G-6.0106b does not put our current debates over ordination to rest. What it means is that barely more than half of the denomination is able to force its interpretation of ordination on every individual Presbytery, congregation, and member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Getting rid of G-6.0106b will not force a single Presbytery or congregation to ordain or accept a single candidate they do not vote to accept. What it will do is enable thousands of congregations and dozens of Presbyteries who have been a slight minority in the denomination right now to consider, just consider, LGBTQ persons for ordination where they might be called to serve.

In a situation where believers disagree in good faith according to their conscience, where 30 years or argument has not made any progress in producing consensus, it seems most reasonable, most just, and best to allow freedom of conscience. Nothing is preserved when 51% of the denomination maintains a specific litmus-test and forces 49% to apply it. There is no other clause like G-6.0106b which is aimed at a specific issue in the same way in all of the Book of Order. G-6.0106b is an aberration in our polity, and we are better off in every conceivable way without it. It is not justified ethically, rationally, politically nor theologically. It is time for us to vote in favor of inclusion.

Download this document as a pdf in 8.5x11 portrait format, or half-fold booklet format.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stop Doing Your Part

It is the instantly recognizable thumbnail of a widespread social ethic. The phrase 'do your part' in its various conjugations is universally understood as a good thing. It is an appeal anyone can make with a reasonable expectation it will meet with affirmation. And it needs to stop.

Picture a large heavy object with a crowd of people standing around it at even intervals. Divide the weight of that object by the number of individuals and you have the amount of effort it will take each person to lift it. If everyone just 'does their part' a task is accomplished which one person alone or a few people would find difficult or even impossible. It sounds straightforward and fair right?

The problem is that in life people aren't positioned around that object at even intervals. A great many are piled up in certain areas and other spots have only a few people nearby. Furthermore, the object isn't a nice even density. It is heavier at some corners than others and the heavy spots don't always line up where the large groupings of people are. And the people aren't all equally strong. Some of the people can't expend as much effort as others. And it's really foggy and the people can't see each other and no one really knows how much effort another person is putting into lifting the weight. All we know is how much effort WE are putting in.

'Doing your part' is just another way of letting the weight stay on the ground. It is a moral escape clause. It allows you to feel good about yourself and even seek approval from others without having accomplished anything. The truth is that most difficult things in this world are going to be accomplished by a minority of people doing much more than their part. This is partly because life is unfair. Partly because some people are gifted in ways others are not, and partly because some people get off their ass and get to work while everyone else is doing their part.

An apocryphal statistic that floats about in churches is that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Usually this is said as a lament. "If only we could get those other 80% to do their part, wouldn't it be wonderful!" Without a doubt life would be improved if everyone was equally motivated, talented, and provided equal opportunities to work on the projects that are important to me. But none of those projects are ever going to get completed if I wait for that miraculous day to arrive, or if I keep putting in mediocre effort expecting everyone else to meet me halfway.

Here is what Jesus has to say about doing your part: "Some workers arrived at dawn. Some later in the morning. Some in the afternoon. Some workers arrived just before the end of the day. All the workers got paid the same wage." Deal.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why the New Atheists don’t go far enough » Blog Archive » Why the New Atheists don’t go far enough

This talk, this guy, is brilliant. I so rarely encounter something I really have to listen closely to and think about. If you care at all about what it means to believe, this is worth a listen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Talking Like Adults

With the exception of Jon Stewart, the smartest and most interesting commentators in the media are bloggers. Network television is a cesspit of sensationalist drivel. Newspapers are calcified institutions. Most reporters are now nothing but the mouthpiece of their government or corporate "sources". Radio is a bunch of neanderthals grunting at each other. There is precious little reason to read, listen to, or watch any of the mainstream media out there.

Some bloggers though? Some of them are keeping the fire burning.

Allow me to give you an example of some bright minds having a public conversation on matters of substance in a way that edifies everyone.

Hopefully you know by now that President Obama has publicly announced his intention to target certain individuals he designates as enemies of the United States for elimination. On the list of targets are at least four US citizens. One in particular, Anwar al-Awlaki, is the focus of this particular debate, because he is the only one whose identity we know.

This debate began, because al-Awlaki's father sued to get a court order to ban the government from assassinating his son without due process. In response, the Department of Justice on behalf of the White House filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the case without hearing the merit of the claims on the basis of "state secrets". In other words, to quote Glenn Greenwald, "not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality."

Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at Salon, is a persistent progressive civil libertarian. He was joined by Alex Massie at the Spectator in arguing that this represented a massive power grab by the president and a serious threat to constitutionally guaranteed liberties. And here is where it became a true conversation - Andrew Sullivan of The Dish at the Atlantic cited both men and argued briefly against them, saying essentially that this doesn't amount to an assassination, but rather a normal act of war in the context of the global war on terror. Sullivan, having been a vocal critic of the Bush administration torture policies was immediately called out all over the internet for being a hypocrite.

Proving the libertarian strain awkwardly straddles the liberal/conservative divide in this country Sullivan got hit from both sides. Daniel Larison of Eunomia at The American Conservative hit back that Obama defenders who shy from the word "assassination" are no better than the Bush defenders who wanted us all to choke down that Enhanced Interrogation bullshit. Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine used his legal expertise to delve into the issues behind this argument and show why Ex Parte Quirin, the case being used as the major precedent for presidential authority to kill American citizens still requires due process, and probably doesn't even apply in this instance. Greenwald came back the most emphatically with questions for Sullivan to answer, such as would Sullivan be comfortable with a future President Palin having the established authority to assassinate US Citizens without judicial oversight or due process?

They were important, hard-hitting questions. The kind you don't see on CNN or Fox News. Andrew Sullivan took the time to reply, but unfortunately only stoked the fire more since his principal defense seemed to be to reiterate the assertion in the title of his post "We are at war!" as if this justified presidential power-grabs for Obama that he deplored under Bush. Novelist and blogger Barry Eisler took that opportunity to chime in with one of the best essays in the entire conversation tearing Sullivan's arguments to shreds without hyperbole. Greenwald also responded using a parallel example from a current situation in Kenya to drive home how far the United States has gone down the road of authoritarianism when small impoverished countries contending with serious terrorist threats have a higher respect for the rule of law than we do.

The debate may continue, but I think the major points have already been elucidated. Sullivan, unfortunately has not responded to the diversity or strength of the arguments of his opponents, but has chosen instead to rehash his "we're at war" line, which is unpersuasive to say the least. My sympathies lie with Greenwald in this. I can't believe we are even debating whether assassination is a legal option for the President of the USA, but I really appreciate the way this whole conversation has unfolded. No one stooped to ad hominem or hyperbole. Everyone, including Sullivan who I think has got the worst of it, attempted to present reasoned argument for their point of view with relevant factual support. Amazing to see journalists talking like adults.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good Ministry is Good Poker

It came out in a text conversation - the idea occurred to me, today, how similar my experience of ministry has been to my experience of playing poker.  I'm not a professional poker player by any means, and am not even particularly good at poker, but I know enough of the basics, the tactics involved, to see some definite connections between poker and ministry.

Know What You Have
It's important to know what it is you are dealing with - to have a clear sense of what appears valuable or powerful, and what is in fact valuable or powerful.  The suited Ace-King is a good example.  It looks good - an Ace and a King, of the same suit!  What could go wrong?  But the chances of drawing a flush or a straight are not very good, and at the end of the day, if your best cards are an Ace and a King,  you will lose to dos deuces.  Even if an Ace or a King comes up, you will lose to a starting pair of Aces or a pair of Kings.

It's definitely possible to see a particular program, or volunteer, or vision statement or whatever, and to think of it as powerful, when really the slightest bit of wind will blow it over.  Think of your commitment of time and energy as your "bet" - you are betting your life, or a small part of it, that what you put your time and energy into will bear some fruit.  But how likely is that, really?  Is this just a pet project? An ego thing?

Bet to Learn
The way to figure out what is going on in poker is to bet.  You can observe all you want, but until people start putting stakes in what they want, you won't learn much.  This starts with you - put a bet out there and see what happens.  Commit some time and energy to a new project, and watch the responses.  I've done this with a few programs and ideas already at DPC where I'm the new pastor.  I've felt good about an idea, I've been asked for something to happen and I make it happen - and then no one shows up.  I try it again, ask around, and again get a blank.

That hand I thought was pretty strong?  Trash.  Toss it aside and wait for the next one.

Obviously, there is the exception to this, which is in the case of a moral imperative.  No matter how unpopular the right thing to do is, you should still do it.  But we're not talking about moral imperatives - those don't really inform poker, and that's the metaphor of the day.  This is for the marginal things, the ideas or programs of initiatives that are interchangeable - just as good as others you might try.

Watch Others' Bets
Your bet is your time and energy - and as paid clergy, I have a glut of time and energy to put into ministry, because I don't have another job.  I figure that my 10 to 20 hours is about equivalent to someone else's 1 to 2 hours of commitment, and I act that way.  In worship, the liturgist, choir, soloist, person doing the children's sermon, whatever, is an equal, even though I've put 30 hours into worship.  Truth is, I had 30 hours to spend, and was paid quite well for it.

But where do the Elders, Deacons and parishioners put their bets?  Where do they put their time and energy? Those are the things, like it or not, that they have a stake in.  If that happens to be weekly tea with their lifelong friends where they sit and gossip, that tells you something.  If that happens to be cooking all the spaghetti for the spaghetti dinner every October, that tells you something else.

I'm learning to basically ignore what people tell me is important, or what they tell me they want.  I look at what they actually do with their precious time - what things actually compete with leisure and work and family.  As I said, and I'm sure other pastors get this all the time - ten people telling you that they really want something to happen, like a new Bible study or men's group, means nothing if no one shows up to the Bible study or men's group when you schedule it.

Pick Your Spot
Once you've got a good idea of what your resources are (your "hand"), you've committed some time and energy to a few things (your early "bets"), and you've watched where you get some commitment from others (their "bets), it's time to choose something and commit more time and energy to that.  You can't do everything - like any poker player, you have a limited amount of resources to deal with - limited time, limited tolerance, limited energy, limited creativity.  I think it's important to pounce, however, when you feel that there is some movement afoot; just as important as it is to let go of failing initiatives where the pastor is the only one whose committed.

But there comes a time to make bigger and bigger bets, hoping that all the time and effort will pay off for everyone.  That's a huge difference between poker and ministry, actually.  When you "lose", everyone in your church community loses.  They lose your time and energy that could have been better spent, they lose momentum and optimism about future experiments and initiatives, and they lose whatever time and energy they themselves put into a project just becuase it was the pastor's pet project and they wanted to show that they love and support you.

There are people who will bet with you just because you are the pastor.  That doesn't mean you should squander what they give you on a bad bet.

Move All-In
At some point, you need to commit totally.  This is the direction we're going.  This is the new program we're going to try.  This is the ministry opportunity we're going after.  Moving all-in at the beginning is, frankly, stupid.  Pouring your resources into something new when  you have no idea whether it is even viable just seems foolish, and is a great way to burn out in five years, like 50% of pastors do.

It's possible to front-load a project - to go all-in early, to pour effort into a new, untried ministry because you are passionate and motivated, and because the people who volunteer for everything will volunteer for this too, giving you the illusion that there is lots of support.  The problem is that you reduce your chances of winning anything significant, and you run a high risk of just flushing your efforts down the proverbial toilet.

At some point, you will run out of resources if you are not making anything back.  If your work is not building enthusiasm and joy, bringing people closer to God and to each other, healing your community and the relationships around you, and making peace in the larger world (which all are what I mean by "winning" in the case of ministry) then you will run out.  You'll wear everyone down until your ministry is Reverend Overfunctioning's Solo Hour.

Why won't they support these vital ministries?  Why will no one volunteer?  Why am I so tired and angry all the time?  Maybe, just maybe, because you made stupid bets.

Ministry Is Not Gambling...Except When It Is.
There are a hundred ways in which ministry is not gambling.  This is probably only a one-blog-post caliber metaphor - but I still think this is worth consideration in ministry, and it is something I will keep in mind.  Or, rather, it is a way that I was approaching ministry that I only now articulated clearly.

Given the differences, I don't think that betting is that far off.  We only have so long, and so much, before we die.  The ways we spend our time are like bets, and as pastors, we are extended a line of credit from our parishioners which runs out if we don't refresh it with some winnings.  We can squander time and energy and good-will just as easily as money, or even more easily, since our society values money more than anything else.  Money is precious - anyone will tell you that.  Time not spent earning money...time spent at church, say, volunteering for the pastor's new pet project?

That's time wasted.  Except when it isn't.