Recently Paul Borden was visiting with our district superintendents and our conference staff, and he made a comment that has stuck with me. He said, ìImagine that you appoint a pastor to a congregation, and as soon as the pastor arrives, all the leading laity come and say, ìPastor, we represent all the laity of the church, and weíve come to tell you that for the next two years we have all committed to eagerly and prayerfully and enthusiastically do whatever you tell us to do to fulfill the mission of the church. We humbly place ourselves and our resources fully in service to your vision and we will do what you tell us.î How many of our pastors,î Borden asked, ìwould know what to do?”
The illustration provoked some good-humored laughter, and a little bit of nervous shifting in our seats. The intent was to point to the lack of clarity about our mission and the deficit of learning and skill in how to lead congregations to fulfill their mission. If we donít know what we would do with absolute full support and enthusiastic and faithful commitment, how can we hope to know what to do in the face of the doubt, hesitance, distraction, resistance, and uneven motivations and clashing values that characterize most congregations?
First, let me say that I donít think this is just a pastoral issue. I think that one could tell a similarly provocative story about bishops. What if all the clergy and laity of the annual conference suddenly said, ìBishop, for the next four years, we will do whatever you tell us to do?î Would I know for sure what to suggest that would break the powerful long-term patterns of loss and decline? The answers are not easy, and anyone thinking that ìall we gottaí do isÖ.î simply does not understand the multi-faceted challenges we face. We have a lot of learning to do just to understand what the problems really are; and then much more learning to do together to figure out constructive ways forward to fulfill the mission of Christ.
Second, the illustration again points to the absolute, non-negotiable need for continual life-long learning among our clergy at every level of the church. To be clear about our mission and confident about our future means that we must continually sharpen our skills, deepen our faith, and foster the congregational practices and personal discipleship that lead our churches forward.
What do you think? How much of the conversations, planning, thinking, praying, and working in your congregation is directed at helping the church fulfill its mission to the wider community? How much is focused on internal maintenance, conflict, organizational process, or distracting issues? Would we (clergy or lay) know what to do if everyone really decided to work together?
Yours in Christ,