Monday, October 27, 2014

Reflections on Ministry

It's been a crazy month for our family- especially at my work.  Actually, if I am honest, it's been crazy for a lot longer than that.  I get to serve a congregation that defies many of the national trends in terms of mainline Protestant churches...we are not declining in membership, we are not struggling to have youth come to our programs, our finances are not perpetually in the red.  These are all things for which we give thanks for regularly.  We are amazed by the number of good things that God is doing in our midst.

Yet though we aren't struggling with some of the more common challenges of the day, we are struggling with an issue that I feel is directly connected to a struggle many of the people in our congregation feel on a regular basis as well.  As staff we care deeply about helping people grow in relationship with God and in order to nurture people in that relationship, we offer many great opportunities.  The struggle is that in doing this, several on our staff are not able to live the life we want for the people of our congregation-- centered, healthy, and balanced as much as possible. 

The centered aspect is the biggie for me, but so is having the space in our lives to spend with our family and friends and take care of ourselves without everything having to be a race.  "There must be a way!" I tell myself, but then when I think of how things could change, I come empty.  Because here's the thing- I want to keep offering opportunities for people to grow in relationship with God and the people they love.  I want people to live lives that are centered in God.

But I want to live that kind of life too.  In our family, we have to make deliberate choices regularly about the kind of life we want and the way we want to raise our kids.  Our big rocks are faith, family, and fun.  We take time to be active, eat together as a family, and build relationships that are important to us.  We're intentional about introducing our kids to new experiences and places.  And we put a lot of effort into making our values of service, kindness, and generosity real.  But it's not easy, and it's often a dance trying to figure out how to put our big rocks in first.

I'm at the point where I think this is what we need to do in ministry as well.  What are our congregation's big rocks?  What needs to be put in place in order for us to live the values we want to define us?  What might we need to let go of in order to make this happen?

The thing in ministry (and about being a pastor) is that everyone has an opinion about what should be done, how it should be done, and they have the tendency to think that what is important to them should be most important in the congregation too.  And we certainly try to have a way for people of all ages and seasons and walks of life to feel connected and have opportunities to grow.  The only trouble is, at least in my experience, we usually tend to rely on a relatively small number of staff (and volunteers) to make this breadth of opportunities available.

A congregation I know, on the sidebar of their newsletter, lists their pastoral staff.  But the thing I love is that the list starts with the title "Ministers" and then under that says, "All members of the Trinity family."  After that, the rest of the pastors are listed.  I think this is a powerful proclamation, because it reminds that congregation, every time they read the newsletter, that they have an important role in doing "the work of the church"-- in being the hands and feet of Jesus in that place.

This mentality shines forth in how the congregation does ministry as well, because there are no standing committees or boards, which tend to rely on the same people to do many things.  Rather, they operate using ministry teams.  When someone has an idea for ministry, they gather a team around them and carry out the "task."  There aren't meetings held just because we're in the habit of meeting, and the attitude is that if you think something should be done, do it! 

The other way that this mentality that all members of the congregation are ministers plays out is in Bible studies and classes that are offered-- they are not all led by a pastor, which not only allows more learning opportunities to take place but also reminds the congregation that pastors aren't "experts" and don't have to be the hub of all teaching.

As I've reflected about all of this, it's seems to me that this kind of model of ministry is sustainable and has a ripple-effect too.  It also seems to me that in order to put this kind of model in place-- and sustain it-- at least two things are needed.  The first is that there has to be buy in from the staff and the congregation.  This means that the pastors and staff need to be okay with not being "in charge" of everything, and at the same time, the congregation has to let go of thinking that the pastor and staff should be in charge of and in attendance at everything.  The second thing is that there has to be an attitude of yes-- both in members coming forward to lead and share and in the staff making a point of equipping and empowering members to lead, share, and serve.

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