Suburban Pres. staff and I went to a one-day workshop on Congregational Transformation today. There’s a big presbytery initiative underway and this was the “come and see” session. Yes, transformation is a buzzword. Ten years ago it was redevelopment. Then we had “missional church” stuff. Now it’s transformation. Buzzwords aside, it was quite worthwhile and thought-provoking, even though not much of it was new. I’ve been trying to distill down the key ideas as I see them… here are a few:
The church needs to stop seeing itself as a provider of spiritual services. Our job is not to make members, but disciples.
Churches begin to decline when the needs of their members becoming the end-all be-all and they lose sight of the community in which they live. In fact, the presenters told about some redevelopment work in the Lutheran church in which a condition of the grant was that the pastor had to spend 50% of his/her time out in the community, connecting and talking with people.
Seminaries talk about how we’re in a post-Christian age, yet they do not teach us how to be church in this new reality, how to cast a vision and help a congregation get on board. Instead they teach us how to maintain programs and be a caretaker for the congregation (not unimportant tasks). There has to be a way to do evangelism without hitting people over the head, but if there is, I never learned it. I would love to devote a portion of my time out in the community, but what would that even look like?
Transformation starts with ourselves. If we are spending all our time keeping our members happy (they call this “the happy trap”), rather than equipping others to be in ministry with us AND tending to our own spiritual lives, we will crash and burn. Loved this quote from Wayne Muller’s Sabbath (which is an excellent book):
Without rest, we respond from a survival mode, where everything we meet assumes a terrifying prominence. When we are driving a motorcycle at high speed, even a small stone in the road can be a deadly threat. So, when we are moving faster and faster, every encounter, every detail inflates in importance, everything seems more urgent than it really is and we react with sloppy desperation.
If you take transformation seriously, things will change, and some people will not want to go along. Conflict is inevitable, and it is usually not a sign to quit trying to effect the change. People will come to you and threaten to leave (“and take my pledge with me”). If your vision is faithful to where you feel the Spirit leading, then you need to be able to let the person go. Otherwise you are giving in to extortion. This was probably one of the most important and challenging nuggets all day, since I have that pastoral disease of wanting everyone to like me.
Visionary leadership sets a realistic pace. Charge ahead too fast and nobody’s with you; wait for everyone to get on board and you never get anywhere. I think Senior Pastor and I are polar opposites here, and she would bear this out, I think. She tends toward the former and I am definitely the latter. I love to luxuriate in the discernment process and build lots and lots and lots of consensus. But sometimes you have to just get going and trust that others will follow even if they don’t “get it” yet, or they won’t come along and that’s OK too.
”Spiritually mature Christians are willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel.” I realize how often in the church we water down this fact in order to be palatable to the culture. It is hard for me to call people to the “big jobs” at the church. Why? Part of it is the vocabulary of the church. We talk about filling volunteer slots rather than living the faith.
Our church is in a prime position to be talking about these things. We have hit a plateau growth-wise, but there is good energy here (although it’s a lot of “accomplishment” energy and I’m not sure how much “spiritual” energy there is--I think sometimes people feel a sense of duty), but things are not so dire. The time is ripe to recast a vision and reconnect with our larger community. (Of course we do local mission—this is about something deeper.)
There’s more, but that’s enough for now. I wonder what other Revs have done with some of these issues.