Yes, you’re busy. I’m busy too. But are we busy doing the right thing? This was recently discussed at a Fruitful Congregation Journey(FCJ) session that Rev. Chris Danielson attended. Chris pastors the First United Methodist Church in LaGrange. His church is one of about fifty UMCs in the state that are participating in an eight-session leadership development training that’s part of FCJ.
Chris (not pictured here) agreed to share some reflections from this first session. He said that when he quotes Rev. Mark Gough–who facilitated his FCJ session–that he was paraphrasing what Gough said…
“Pastors should spend about 40% of their time interacting with people outside the church to build connections that can result in bringing new people to Christ.”
The statement stunned me. 40%?
But it was only the first in a series of challenging statements offered by the Rev. Mark Gough. Gough is training ministers in the Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church in a yearlong process called the “Fruitful Congregations Journey”. Leaders in our church are receiving similar training.
Gough continued. “In early Methodism, our church looked like the New Testament church. Evangelists went out to unchurched territories. In our case, it was the circuit-riding preachers on horseback heading west into the frontier.
“The circuit rider found an unchurched area and dismounted. Planted a church. Trained leaders to run things. Promised to check in on them quarterly and offer them Communion at that time. Then he jumped back on his horse in search of new, unchurched territories.”
“So,” Gough said, “who did the work of the church? The people, just like the New Testament says they should. The people prayed for the sick. The people raised necessary funds. The people taught Sunday schools and Bible studies. And the Methodist Church thrived for a century!
“And then in the 1850’s, the Methodist church began to take their circuit riders off horses and installed them as pastors in local churches.
“Well, you start paying a guy to stay in one place… what’s he gonna do to look useful? The ‘work of the church’. In other words, the well-meaning pastor stole the work of the church back from the church members: he began to do the praying, teaching, visiting, and providing for the poor.
“Pretty soon, the pastor was in-charge of everything, the professional Christian. Pretty soon, the prayers of others didn’t matter as much as ‘when the pastor prayed for us’. Pretty soon the God-given ministries of the church members dwindled away as they assumed the pastor could do it all better anyway.
“And guess what? Church members let him rob them blind of their gifts. They were glad to sit back and let the special ‘anointed’ pastor do their work, relieved to be off the front lines.
“And guess what else? Statistically, the Methodist church has been in decline in America ever since.
“So why bring all this up? The role of pastors needs to change from their status as the blessed professional Christian do-it-all mentality to training leaders in their churches for ministry. Not to train leaders to do the pastors’ work, but to do the work God has given them to do.
“And congregations need to change. Congregations need to be unruly with their pastors. Not unruly about demanding their pastors spend more hours sitting in at the office, or mediating their little spats, or spending their time perfecting the running of the institution.
“Congregations need to demand their share of the joyous work of ministry in the Body of Christ. They need to demand to have their gifts developed and put to use. They need to demand that pastors train and empower them instead of stealing their God-given gifts and doing it all for them.”
It’s been two weeks since that training session and my head is still spinning.
However, I know that Gough is right. Methodist pastors, myself included, spend excessive amounts of time being “in charge”: perfecting administrative procedures, obsessing about how smoothly things are running, soothing nerves of disgruntled sheep, and other non-Kingdom building activities.
Pastors also gladly have taken on and taken away ministries from laypersons that God has gifted to do vital and life-changing work in the church. We spend very little time training leaders to do their God-given work. And we enjoy the status of the “anointed” professional Christian way too much.
I know Gough is right about congregations too. They are dying instead of thriving. Congregations are not reminded of their God-given gifts nor mobilized for ministry the way they could and should be. And when congregations are challenged and presented with the rigors and joys of their God-given work, they are often very willing to let pastors let them off the hook. (Congregations trust that their well-meaning pastors will always plug the holes in the ministry anyway. That’s what they are paid to do, right?)
I cannot speak for you, but I’m ready to do a “new thing” at our church that is really the oldest New Testament thing: function as a Body of Christ. It will challenge all of us to step outside our comfort zones but in the process we will all discover God’s leading and blessings in the process.
Are we ready? If we say “yes”, we’d better mean it.