On my candidating weekend here in November, my Senior Pastor and I went through a number of events that I needed to add to my calender. One in particular, I was a little skeptical about. It was called Turnaround Bootcamp (sponsored by the Presbytery of West Jersey) and it was taught by Paul Nickerson. I had been to plenty of church growth events and some challenged my but often left me with no practical solutions as we move ahead. To my surprise it was a remarkable event that made us look at how we operated as a church, what we must do to reach the community, and the start of a roadmap to do it. There was plenty of pros and cons of the event. As I think about it and begin to decompress from this weekend’s time together lets start with the cons.
In order to do much of what which was discussed this weekend required a “paradigm shift”. For those that are into and understand the missional idea of the church it is moving from a traditional idea to one that is sending the members into the world. While the team that we were with at the conference were some of the people that needed to hear what we needed to do, but we were missing many of the elders and church leadership that needed to hear it. If we are are to do a foundational change to our ministry, then it needs to be created through a groundswell, that is the idea is organic and is produced out of a need/common goal. I worry that as we move forward that many in group will become discouraged and the groundswell will not build.
There is so much that I liked from this event. We were challenged separately as laity and clergy to do our part. I was extremely grateful for the suggestions from our own group of where we could meet and reach people, as well as the priority of not being bogged down in administrative duties. While we were given practical steps it must now move from the classroom to the community. It is easy to shake our head and nod in the room but it is different when you take it to the streets and do it. We were also challenged with much work to do in the future by setting up groups for much of the work that needs to be done. While we do not have our “Harry and Mary Unchurched” we do have a great starting point.
It will be interesting how our group takes what we learned this weekend and moves it forward.
I have spent the last couple of days in a sense of internal conflict. Some of the questions I have been arguing over in my head and those around me is where is the church’s or our own sense of responsibility for the church universal. While I do feel that I have a call to pastoral ministry and it have been mostly verified by the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, our Session, and by others. In Presby-speak it needs to be verified by the Session, Presbytery, and a “Calling” Church.Anyways my definition for a call has been shaped by the words of Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor who writes, “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The place where a GOD calls you and where the needs of the world meet is where our calling is. That is so true, for each of us we have our own calling. That calling has been put into us by God. Whether it is to be a teacher, minister, office manager, to serve others, be a behind the scenes person or whatever makes us glad. The place where our own personal call and the place where the worlds desire and need is becomes our personal calling.Social responsibility is something entirely different but yet the same. It comes from several different passages.Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.“orMatthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Our sense of responsibility can also be called social responsibility. This responsibility also comes as mandate and a call from God, but is different than our own personal call. Social responsibility is not a personal call but a universal call. It was best described to me by my wife last night in a pretty cool illustration. She said if someone where to knock on our door with a need right now we would in our best way possible to help them. If they needed food we would help them to the best of our abilities. If they needed a million dollars it would be beyond us and would take a community to solve the problem. The Bible talks about that we need to aid and love those around us. Those that need someone to listen to them, support them, be a confidant, among a myriad of other things.I am socially responsible for many of the issues in the world but that does not mean that it becomes my singular focus. Social responsibility is a broad focus while a personal calling is narrow. We need to balance the “other” issues that God calls us to while we continue to pursue our God given calling.
I am just finishing up an independent study class on the issues of technology and the future of the church. It has been a fascinating subject as I have been reading some books that have started to reshape the way that the church needs to look at itself. First off, it has nothing to do with service style but a realistic examination of how technology impacts how we do things. The books that I have read were Wired Church 2.0, Groundswell, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, The Great Emergence, and Branding Faith. Through these books I have been working on a final paper and after some conversations of this some thoughts have begun to be put together.The first question is: How do people find a church today? Often the question is answered by that the majority has been invited by a friend. While that is still a major influence, how are other ways that people end up at the doorsteps of the church? Direct mailings or mass flyers often produce the 1-3% return rate. Recently my church sent out 10,000 mailers to the community and the return rate was less than 50 people. That is less than 1%, that is if my math is working correctly.With the rise of technology we need to look to see what our Internet presence is. If someone new came to your community how would they stumble across your church? An Internet presence is if you were to search “church, Presbyterian, or anything else related to your church” what are are search results? Very few people are looking churches in the yellow pages anymore. In searching myself or “Sean Chow” in google my own presence was in the top ten. It brought back my myspace, blog, facebook, and my association with the Presbyterian Church. While I did the same in searching my home church there was very little to find us. Other ways people are looking through a variety of rating systems online such as Yelp and others. People in the community today have a much better understanding of the churches they visit. No longer do we need to “act” a certain way, for those that come to visit already know who and what we are. This is through the research that they have done through our website, blogs, ratings/ reviews, You Tube, and hundreds of other ways through the Internet. People are coming to see if we are authentic. Are we the same people that we project online or are we different. After reading my blog, potential new community members know what type of person that I am and are looking to see if that is actually me or simply a persona. While this has the potential to turn people off (knowing who I really am) it also projects a sense of authenticity.As I have been struggling to create an online presence for our church, my wheels have begun to spin as we look to what evangelism is in this new culture. Today’s evangelism is not your old fashioned evangelism anymore, technology has changed everything.