Pastoral Response to Conversations with Pastor
This past winter I made the commitment to engage the congregation in conversation. I visited a total of 50 members representing 33 families.
The initial motivation was based on our budget shortfall. I wanted to know what the congregation was thinking. But I heard little financial talk. Instead, I heard a desire for Prince of Peace to connect. Yes, I heard stories that helped me better understand our present situation. And I certainly got to better know the congregation. But most importantly, these conversations were about connections, especially the connection between pastor and people.
We are developing a growing partnership that is building trust, and helping us traverse our rapidly changing church landscape. Walking up the sidewalk to the Urbaneks for dinner one night I thought to myself, “this is really old fashioned.” The pastor never comes over for dinner anymore. People are way to busy. But these visits convinced me that people still do want to meet, people still value this relationship, and people still want to work together with the pastor to help this congregation thrive.
I’ll continue to be in conversation. Whether we break bread, drink coffee, have a beer, or just talk; these visits will strengthen our bond, and help us work together to be vital.
Thank you for inviting me into your homes, into conversation, and into this developing relationship we share.
So what did I learn?
During my council interview Bob Durie shared Prince of Peace’s deficit for that year, 2013, at $80,000. Bishop Bartholomew, then Assistant to the Bishop, said that she was surprised I didn’t fall off my chair when I heard the amount. I was a bit taken aback, but attributed the deficit to the vacancy. With a pastor in place, the deficit would become manageable. I was naive. Looking back I didn’t appreciate how tenuous the financial situation was at Prince of Peace. The pastoral vacancy took its toll. It was long. Some left. The church took a financial hit. Many extended themselves to keep ministry happening. But after I arrived, many were burnt out and ready for a break.
Combine this with the general decline in the church at large, and we can see that Prince of Peace’s struggles were a kind of perfect storm.
Despite this, the mood of the congregation remains positive. We are hopeful about our future. We look forward to attracting new people and new ministries. And we realize we are currently experiencing a “holy discomfort,” to which God is moving us to new life.
In the new year I preached about pushing the “reboot” button, as in God rebooting our church structure. I like the metaphor, though Joan New said that, “rebooting” the church only gets us back to where we were, not to where we need to be, some place new (no pun intended.)
I’ve thought a great deal about these “new places.” What are they? Where are they? In my conversations no one “new place” was indentified, but there were common threads which revealed what these “places” might look like.
I often I heard this term “connection.” The congregation wants to connect more on a social level. This is not insignificant. But more importantly the congregation wants to connect on a deeper, spiritual level. More than once I heard how Sunday morning is not enough. We need to connect beyond worship. We need to connect with lasting relationships. We need to connect on line through a virtual prayer group. Now there’s a new place of ministry!
I was struck by a comment of Doug’s referring to younger generations. He said millennials have serious questions about biblical truths, but they are very much searching for the deep relationships that our Christian faith offers. While millennials remain skeptical of the institutional authority of the church, they very much relish the authentic community that the church can offer.
Another common thread centered on outreach. From a budgetary standpoint a comment was made that our spending plan was too inwardly focused. Another comment spoke to creatively getting into the community. One member shared how other religious groups in our community are proud of their religious faith and speak openly about it, whether they be Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim. But Christians seem timid amongst this multiculturalism. We are so concerned about offending other faith traditions, that we remain quiet about our own. She said the stronger our identity, the more willing we will be to reach out. I liked what another member said, “The church is to be the essence of Christ, helping people find Christ as we serve the community in his name.”
While none of these comments named a specific new place the church should be, these common threads of connection, deeper relationships, and focus on outreach all set the stage for a mission centered congregation. I find this very encouraging. Prince of Peace wants to be the church. We’re aware of our challenges, but totally understand that this mission is God’s, and God will see to us, and will equip us to be vital in our ministry.
In conclusion, I add one final comment I heard in regards to all that is going on around Prince of Peace. “Pastor, no matter what happens, we’re in.” So am I!
In addition, I’d like to share a few comments of which I took notice. They might give us some direction as move forward.
- Move the coffee pot. We make it too easy to leave church with the coffee pot is in the corner.
- Do away with the budget. This one’s radical and perhaps unpractical, but is there a radical way to rethink how we structure the church finances?
- Hold a congregational retreat.
- Be satisfied taking baby steps into new ministries.
- Send out a weekly email blast with church communications.
- Don’t brand ourselves as an institution, but rather as the place to spread God’s love.
- Don’t throw everything away. (I like Phyllis Tickle who said every 500 years the church holds a rummage sale where they decide what to keep and what to get rid of.)
- Our mission is not build the church coffers.
- Utilize social media more.
- Have worship in the park.
- In our multicultural communities, name why Jesus still matters.
- We’ve left too much to the church staff.
- Light up the pulpit, it makes a big difference in our ability to hear.
- Parents in the community regret not having their children grow up in church.
- We need intensive prayer.
- Ministry trumps finances.
- Invite the AA groups to worship.
- Don’t be too tied to an end result.
- Hold a healing service more often.