Over three years ago, in the middle of the struggle to find a suitable position I remember the wise words from my Senior Pastor that this next chapter of my life would need to be about my families needs and not my own. That while my innermost desire was to not only get an ordained position but to be a part of starting a new church. The church that I was called to had no dreams of starting a new church, in fact it was not even on their radar. That leads us to today, where my iPad seems to be filled with scribbles, sketches, and notes on where we are going and being. For six months we have planned for this moment. The moment when we go from thinking and praying to DOING.
As we take this step there is lots of unknowns. Where are we going to find these people for this new ministry? What is it truly going to look like? Those questions that revolve around the ministry. Then their are questions about myself. Can I do it? And then my own doubts come in and overwhelm me. If I did not have these doubts then I would concerned that I have not thought this whole thing through enough. But despite myself, I am to be used for something truly remarkable.
I am convinced and feel called to do and lead this new ministry/ church. The word that I have felt for so long is “it’s time to go and lead”. That is where we are going. Looking ahead the rock that we are rolling up the mountain is steep but at least the rock is moving. As I have broken down the basic plan of how this whole New Worshipping Community is going to form it is not rocket science. Simply go, meet people, and be. It really is not that hard. The hard part is putting myself and my team in the position to do it. To do it through the exciting times and the times we are feeling overwhelmed.
Pray for us. This is going to be exciting. I will be posting way for you to pray for us and be a part of what we are doing as our social media end begins to take shape. Hold on…. “we are on a mission from God.”
What does a Session, Presbytery, or a denomination do to change the tide of shrinking churches and non- relevant ministries? What are we doing to change the tide? Should they sit in their board rooms sketching out what needs to be done? Probably not. A groundswell needs to be created by the people themselves and not from a top down structure. In essence it cannot be created artificially but must be created organically. This is where we have gone wrong in the past as we have made decisions from the board room instead of with the community that we wish to be with.
Your probably wondering what a groundswell is? Simply it is a group of people that begin to gather for a particular purpose or not. Many times it is simply for community. Then community happens, then a movement. It was not artificially created by a demographic study, but simply happens. As our church has been looking at growing many have told us that we need to simply create a “Contemporary Service”. The problem is that our church does not have critical mass in order to sustain a new service. What must be done is that we need to begin gathering people. This is not going to happen over a new service. By adding a new service we would be hoping that people would come in our doors. This is not how ministry is often done today. We don’t even know what a “new community” would even want. This is where a groundswell comes in. By creating community, and undercurrent is created by the community. The community gets excited and determines what suits their needs. It is not a professional survey, but programming is determined by the people.
In light of this I have been fortunate to be a part of a team that is trying to create a groundswell through a growing community. What we are doing is not very traditional in many senses and even raises an eyebrow or two. Our team has created a monthly even called Wing Fest where we go to the local bar and simply have wings. At first it was pretty awkward because I am not a bar person. As the months have passed the staff some of the locals have begun to recognize us. Also running into previous members is an interesting experience. More than a few times I have been told that it was good to see me where everyday people are. That is a great compliment! I have also taken an idea from a good friend of mine where they go to the local bowling alley to hang out. Currently we are going monthly to the bowling alley for $1 shoes, $1 games, and $1 food night. It was packed with people! People to interact with and maybe want to be a part of our growing community. As we head into the summer we will go weekly. Those are only a few of our ideas, the general idea is to simply not do everything in the church but be places where you can meet people.
If I can do it, so can you. Creating groundswells and community is not hard. At first it is awkward, but isn’t God calling us to be out in the community instead of waiting for people to walk in the doors. Ministry in this new climate is vastly different than previous generations. We have all the tools to start a groundswell within our church and denomination. All it takes is a bit of creativity and willingness to go there.
When I first came to my current call, I was told that I needed to take a class by Franklin Covey on organization and prioritizing. Many think of this as a Day-timer system. Well, me being a technology guy, lugging an organizer around with me everywhere was not my cup of tea. After some time of trail and error, I got rid of it for my Apple iCloud system. Whew.
So here I sit with my own system that I created all on my own, but I see a mountain in front of me. Our church is in the process of transformation and rebirthing something new. While many of these details are still being sketched out, what I do know is that this is an enormous task. This is going to require a huge push into the community and those around us. Realizing this our Pastoral Staff has began to look at how do we do ministry in this new context. After all we still have the have same amount of hours in the week and my family might want to see me every now and then.
There is an illustration that has large rocks, some stones, and some sand. But it cannot all fit into on container. Unless you first put the big rocks in first, then the stones, and finally the sand. As we venture into this new reality are looking for the “must haves” of our ministry. Obviously, we are to lead worship and and provide the Sacraments. So they are designated our big rocks. Something of a less priority but still important is designated as stones. What is left is the sand. In figuring this all out it takes juggling and shifting of rocks as well as roles. We are beginning to understand what a congregation member thinks is important is not necessarily important (or top priority for us). Restructuring Sunday School may be a good idea, but not a priority for us. Another may think that being at every midweek dinner to do the prayer is vitally important, but what about meeting/ being introduced to a mother that is getting her first break of the day at the gym.
As we move forward in what God is calling our Pastoral Staff to do, it may (and will) wrinkle a few feathers. We cannot get everything into the jar of our lives but are able to do so much more when we realize the importance and priority of it.
The future is bright for the church. While many say that the church has lost its cultural relevance, its place in the world, and only see the crumbling “traditional” church; there is also so much promise.
This past weekend I participated in our Presbytery’s Congregational Life Sunday in which I was part of a roundtable discussion on 1001 New Worshipping Communities. We took our participants to the coffee shop down the corner and simply shared what was on our hearts. Each of us we not called or led into leading something new, but we also shared that we can be supportive of those that are creating something new.
I love being given an open floor with people that dare to dream. Those that are not afraid to fail, trip up, or fall on our face. Honestly, that has happened to me in more than a few instances. While nothing concrete came out of our conversations, the best part was that we planted a seed. A seed that tells people to go to their own contexts and create. We are not going to tell you how it should work, rather tell us how it is going to work in your backyard. As our Presbytery struggles with how this works within our polity infrastructure, we are intent on being permission giving. I got asked a question yesterday about the possible competing nature of these projects. Competing over funds, priority, and what not. My response is what we do does not have a competing nature but one that works in collaboration. Where we care and give the best of ourselves to only to the project we are involved in but to bend over backward in helping those in process.
What’s next? Only God knows.