Top ministry moments – a few that didn’t make the cut

rosette-award-ribbons-yghvBvAfter writing about ministry moments from the past thirty years, I thought of a few more that didn’t make the top ten list.

  • Representing the circuit at the 1998 LCMS Synodical Convention in St. Louis, MO. It was very interesting to see the synod at work, and a great opportunity to meet up with friends from all over the country.
  • Giving the opening prayer for the opening session of the Iowa state legislature. Our church was issued an invitation, the senior pastor had done it before, so I got the nod.
  • In 2004, while our sanctuary was under construction, my good friend and Embry-Riddle flight instructor Jim Petrucci took me up in a single engine training airplane and we flew over the nearly completed building where we worship today. I got some cool pix.
  • For several years, my dear homeless friend Eric Zimmerman would meet me when I arrived to open up the church at 6:30 am on Sunday mornings. Intelligent and inquisitive, Eric still reminds me that the homeless have a name, a face, a family and faith.
  • Sharing a year of ministry with vicars from the seminary 2005- 2008. Thank you Brett, Eric and Brian for letting me be a part of your seminary education.
  • Getting “pied” several times over the years, including Lauren and Kirsten Perrotta’s first Sunday at our church.

Those are some that immediately come to mind. I reserve the right to add to this list in the future as I remember some more.

 

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Visionless?

David Hayward recently wrote a few blog posts about being visionless. The way I read this, rather than being a church that is driven towards goals by mission and vision statements, a church could instead just be the people of God who freely shared forgiveness, compassion, mercy and the gospel.

One of the reasons his posts struck in my mind is because I’ve never been good at “vision casting.” I don’t feel like I’ve ever been able to express a compelling vision around which the church can focus its ministry. However, I am very good at identifying when the church is being the church, when it is reaching both in and out, ministering to people in an amazing variety of ways.

For me, the most amazing part of this is that I had little to do with it. Recently, I made myself a list of the outreach ministries our congregation was involved in, ranging from stocking the shelves of a local food pantry to leading after school Bible clubs to distributing quilts and prayer shawls. I had very little to do with starting these ministries (which number somewhere abound a dozen), and I’m not a part of their ongoing work. This all comes from the hearts and souls of an amazing collection of people.

The only thing I can remember communicating was that if someone had an idea for ministry, they had to make it happen. If it wasn’t heretical or illegal, they pretty much had my blessing and support. Slowly but surely, they took me up on the offer. And maybe that’s what my vision was all along.

Now what?

I remember reading somewhere that your most productive years as a pastor come during your seventh through fourteenth years with a congregation. I’m coming up on my fifteenth anniversary at this congregation this year, and my twenty-fifth in pastoral ministry. Hence my question: now what?

Lately I’ve been asking questions like, “Do I have anything left to say?” or “Is there anything they haven’t heard?” Other questions include, “Is anyone actually listening?” and “Are my messages becoming predictable?” How about, “At what age do you begin to lose the ability to communicate with younger generations?” and “Can they tell how much I don’t want to be at this extremely boring meeting?”

In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, you don’t leave a congregation until you receive a call to another congregation, retire, die, or get kicked out for doing something immoral. I haven’t had a call for over 12 years, am a bit too young to retire, and am trying to avoid the last two. So it looks like I’m going to be here for a while longer, hence the question, “Now what?”

One obvious answer might be, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Sundays and seasons of the church year will continue to come on a regular basis, and so will planning and preparation for worship and preaching. There will be meetings to attend, visits to make, classes to teach, and special occasions like weddings and funerals. Much is predictable.

But another answer could be, “Do a little less.” By that, I mean be sure to get others in the church involved in teaching, visiting, meeting, planning and preparation. Step back so that the church is more about participating than spectating.

Yet another response might be, “Try something new.” Last year I got to accompany a medical team to Haiti. I stopped writing out my whole sermon and began using a storyboard method to compose my messages. I also began uploading the audio files of my sermons to the Internet. I know there will be some new opportunities this year. I just don’t know what they are yet, so it makes sense to leave a little room in my schedule for them.

I guess the religious sounding answer would be, “What God wants me to do.” Which on any given day could be any combination of the above. In some ways, you don’t know what that is until you get there, so “What’s next?” might be a question I need to ask each day.

Why doesn’t our church do that?

“Why doesn’t our church do that?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that question. Another church, near or far, does something newsworthy, and the first question is, “Why aren’t we doing that?” It’s a good question, and I’ve thought about a few responses, some better than others.

When I first hear a question like that, I’m tempted to think, “Great, something else I have to do.” That is not at all true. It is just an opportunity, and more specifically, an opportunity for the person who brought it up to get involved. We should assume that if someone notices a need for ministry, then God is moving them to get involved in that ministry. So a better response is, “That’s a great idea. What’s your plan? Who are you going to get involved?”

But as I think about it further, I believe we also need to stop thinking about competing with other churches. If a congregation is doing a ministry, then we are too, if we truly believe that the “church” is just more than our local congregation. In effect, if another church is doing it, then our church is doing it, too, and the question becomes, “How can we can join them in their efforts?” We do not need to reinvent or clone every ministry, but can enhance what God is already doing. Maybe that’s part of the message he’s sending when we wonder, “Why aren’t we doing that?”