Links to earlier sections:
1. What I Miss: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
2. What I Don't Miss: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
3. Secular Ministry: Part 1, Part 2
4. What I've Learned: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
5. What I Would Do: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8
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One of the questions that must be discussed in this whole process for me if I were to return to parish ministry is quite simply a natural outgrowth of what I have written. It is clear to me that if I returned to the parish I would see myself as a change agent seeking to help the congregation move into a new era with a perspective that may or may not be familiar and comfortable. Such a move would be extremely challenging and even difficult.
So the question becomes, "Is it fair to ask a church to change? Is it fair to challenge them to become something they have never been?"
Fair? It is essential! The only option to change is to die.
I know that sounds harsh and even closed-minded. But the option is to support and maintain the status quo and that never works! Never! I have colleagues who would argue with me from their own experiences. I would respond to them that if their congregation is alive and vibrant it is because they have changed. They cannot be doing things the way they did them 20 years ago. If they are, the life is draining out of them.
If a church were to call me I would lay before them what I have been laying out in this series. The status quo will not survive. It never does.
People change. We always do.
The world has changed. The mission is different. Our communities are different. People have different styles and are looking for different ideas. The church has changed. If it hasn't changed forward, it has moved backward.
This does not, absolutely not, mean that we abandon tradition. What we like to call tradition is truly only about 75 years old- as old as about half-way back through the oldest living generation. And in the past 75 years the world has changed more quickly than at any time in history. That is why there seems to be more disconnect and that brings about a true sense of urgency. The church as we know it is not the same and, as any major organization, moves more slowly than the culture.
That's okay, of course. But we need to be at least moving in the right direction. Admittedly I am a "pioneer;" and "early adopter." I change regularly. My wife says she has been married to countless people in our 35 years- and they are all me. That's my DNA. Therefore I need around me those who can remind me to keep people informed and involved. (By the way, that is another role of denominations- a conservative force slowing down change so it doesn't happen so quickly that the church is left behind.) As I said in a post last week though:
Pioneers are not the ones who get the things into reality and a final form. Pioneers, I am told, are passionate people who can sometimes be too passionate. Passion is scary (even to another passionate person.) Passion can turn people off. But the good news is that in most cases somewhere along the line, many of the ideas and dreams of the pioneers become real to others. They settle in and others take them, add flesh to the bones- and off it goes.That is a difficult thing to manage when one is pastor of a church. At least on the surface. It seems like the pastoral role is quite well understood and has been so for a long time. Well, I still believe that with the right kind of dialogue and conversation, beginning before the call is even accepted, it can be done. It is not an easy or a quick task. It may take some time to develop. But it all comes back to leadership.
Such is the patience and humility needed by the pioneer- to cast the vision, live the passion and then wait to see who picks it up and runs with it.
It does appear that the further into this series that I get- and the closer to the end I get- the question of leadership and management is at the heart of what the church may need for the coming years. I know of very few churches that will be able to survive if they do business as usual from 25 years ago. No, they won't die overnight, but they will find themselves having greater difficulty meeting the needs around them in the changing world.
That leadership can be seen and developed in any style of church. It just has to be appropriate for the community that one is in- and in which the church seeks to be in mission.
Note: I have a hunch that we are quickly coming to the end of this series. There will probably be one more to go summing it all up - if that is possible. It will probably be in a couple of weeks since I have a few other things I think I want to be working on in the next weeks. But feel free to drop me a note if you want me to deal with something specific.