As I was enjoying dinner with some lay members of the conference the other day, one of them asked about some of my hopes and plans for the future of Missouri United Methodism. I outlined what I have repeated so many times before, including a special emphasis on new church starts, creating a culture of learning, and a focus on reaching younger generations. I became a little more specific about some of what this might require in order for us to do these things with excellence.
One of the laypersons quoted what he called an old Chinese proverb: ìThe person who only sits with his mouth open will have to wait a long time for a roast duck to come in.î
The message was perfectly clear. These things will not come about by sitting and waiting for something to happen. Enjoying roast duck requires a great deal of planning, preparation, learning, and work! And so does congregational fruitfulness.
As it happens, this conversation took place one day after I had spent a whole morning and afternoon driving around one of our larger cities to see once again for myself the settings and neighborhoods of several of our churches. Iíve visited all these before, but I was aware of a disturbing patternÖ.the churches are getting smaller and weaker in communities that are getting larger and stronger. HmmÖ..
The most significant difference between churches that are thriving and churches that are just surviving is that growing churches are learning, adapting, and changing. Learning is hard work. It does not happen by passively waiting. In those churches that are doing well, the pastor is constantly learning, and so are the lay leadership. The pastors are attending workshops, reading books about church leadership, talking with other pastors, searching the internet for ideas, connecting and collaborating with other UM pastors and pastors of other denominations. They are constantly engaging with those outside the church and looking for unmet needs in the community. They passionately search for niches of people who have no church home and they strategize on how best to serve, invite, connect, welcome, and support them as they come into the faith community.
The music teams and choirs in such churches are also going to workshops, visiting other churches, staying on top of new and creative ideas. The youth leaders are on the internet searching for ideas, working with other churches collaboratively. The same is true for mission leaders and education workers. They love learning. The leaders are reading together and planning together. They are not waiting passively for people to just come in the door. They are not just hoping that God will provide all the people, money, ideas, and growth. They do not keep asking God to do for them what God created them to do for God! They are not sitting with their mouths open, waiting for the roast duck to come in!
Every new effective ministry initiative results from a thousand incremental steps. Thatís what the lay person was reminding me of. In a good-natured way, he was asking me, ìIf this is really as important as you say it is, what are you doing this week and next to make it happen?î Wow! Thank you for prodding me forward!
Grace and peace,