Friday, June 22, 2007

It is Not Small versus Big

Every year, since I have been attending sessions of Annual Conferences (over 30 years now) I have heard some speech regarding how the small churches are not being treated fairly and the big churches have it so much better. Usually the topic has something to do with the cost of keeping a full time pastor. This year it struck me, perhaps for the first time (which shows how slow I am) that the very framing of the question misses the real issue.

Somehow most of us in the church have come to believe that the goal of smaller congregations is to have their “own” full time pastor. The sign of success and health became supporting a full time pastor. Tied to this belief is a second belief that if the church has a full time pastor then she or he will grow the church and take care of the ministry needs of the congregation.

Now as a district superintendent I have witnessed what happens when a church tries to support far more pastoral ministry than they can afford. The church ends up spending most of its time struggling to raise the needed dollars and less time on ministry, fellowship, evangelism and mission. When the pastor, sustained by these heroic efforts, does not provide the desired growth and stability, the congregation becomes disheartened, frustrated and angry. Often there is a sense of failure on the part of the congregation and the pastor. Sometimes it feels like we cast around for the perfect match of pastor and congregation which will make this formula work. This rarely happens because the formula is flawed.

I believe we need to look at this from a different angle. Our problem isn’t that the cost of supporting a pastor is too high. The truth is, at the current levels of financial support, a congregation needs a minimum of 120 persons in worship to support a full time pastor. We do not have enough people in most of our churches to support full time pastoral ministry. Our answer to the problem is not simply to shift ministry costs to other congregations. It is to change our understanding of what success means for a local church.

The model of the pastor as the person who does the ministry of the church simply does not work in most of our churches. In fact, I think it is harmful to the growth of disciples for Jesus Christ within our congregations. Rather than the church empowering one person to do its ministry, let the church, with the help of its pastoral leadership empower its members to be in ministry to the community, the world and each other.

This is a dramatic shift in our thought processes and our values. It recognizes our goal as making disciples for the transformation of the world, not growing congregations large enough to support full time pastors. It honors the ministry of all believers. It measures the health and vitality of a church by the lives changed not simply the pastors supported. It calls for a different focus by pastors as they become the leaders responsible to help equip, nurture and send out new and renewed disciples.

I hope to live long enough to witness the session of annual conference when small versus big is not even mentioned. I dream for a time when we wrestle how to deploy in ministry to the world an over abundance of enthusiastic, committed disciples of Jesus. I imagine at the same time we will struggle to figure out the best ways to use all the extra money we’ve receive as well.

Maybe I’m a dreamer. I do dream of that new heaven and new earth, the Kingdom of God Christ invites us to participate in now and into eternity.

Won’t you dream the dreams of God with me?

Mike

Do we get it yet?

I am finally getting around to some more reflections on the recent session of annual conference. There was much to celebrate, some of which I mentioned in the last blog. This time I want to share my unease. I was disturbed by our voting for delegates to General Conference, in particular the clergy votes. I guess I am na├»ve, but I really long for a voting process which is open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and not one dominated by lobbying groups. I do not intend to make disparaging remarks about any of the elected persons. After all, I was elected an alternate to the Jurisdictional conference. My concern is the way we went about it. I long for a day when voting is done free from the lobbying and organizing I witnessed this year. I wonder what our methods for insuring “our” candidates are chosen says about our trust in God.

Yes I was endorsed by an lobbying organization. No I was not consulted before the endorsement. It is not that I am opposed to the organization, but that I do not wish to be label as anything more than one who seeks to follow Christ and to be a faithful member of Christ’s body. More and more I find our labels like liberal, progressive, conservative, evangelical, pro-… to be of little value. I don’t fit into any one of those categories very well. I fit in most of them somewhat.

The elections are over. And so is this little rant. What I invite persons from every stripe to do is pray. Pray for each other. Pray for the church. Pray for those different than us. Seems to me the church needs it. I know we need it.

Will you join me in prayer for the church?

Mike

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bleary Eyed at Conference

I’m not a marathon runner, but conference often feels that way. Fatigue sets in. But it is not a weariness of spirit. It is from a lack of sleep and long days.

I’m reminded of the community of which I am a part. A community which is diverse, compassionate, and generous. The singing is incredible. The laughter is contagious.

I’ve been surprised by times of tears. Must be getting older. I watch the ordination service, knowing the journey some of those new pastors have traveled and my eyes filled with tears. They are filled with such joy, such enthusiasm, such hope. I pray they hold onto it and build upon it.

I listened to the names called in the memorial service and recognized far to many. Lives lived so well. Friends who have gone on. Churches which are no more.

The preachers have moved me to hold onto hope, broaden my perspective, listen for new life coming to dry bones.

Most of all, I am reminded of this community of faith. Long time friendships renewed. New one formed. Acts of compassion. Words of welcome. Hugs of hope. This is what it is finally all about for me. To be in community, relationship with others. Even though we do not agree on many things, we are community. Community communing with the one God.

The mystery of the Trinity reminds me that the very nature of God is community. I have come to believe that community is an essential component of being a Christian.

So where do you find community? Where can you create Christian community?

More reflections later.

Bleary eyed but still awake,

Mike

Thursday, June 07, 2007

News from AC or I Should be Paying Attention

I'm at Annual Conference the rest of this week. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with our system, this is the annual gathering of New England United Methodists, with lay and clergy delegates. We worship, pray, discuss, report, learn, network, shoot the breeze during the next 3 days. This year we also elect delegates to national and regional quadrennial gatherings.

I come to conference with mixed feelings. It can be an interesting, exciting, inspiring time. It can also be numbingly boring. Most likely there we will have some of both.

During the week, I will try to blog, with some thoughts and reflections. For both of you who read my blog, I hope it offers something worth reading, or at least a way to waste 10 minutes of your day.

More to come.
Mike