Pastor's Report for 2004 Charge Conference
Let me begin by saying that I’m happy to be your pastor. This church is full of interesting people – “characters” one might say. I can easily see your commitment not only to the church but also to the community. I have never served a church had so many community leaders. You may have noticed that I’m somewhat academic by nature. I appreciate the fact that you accept me as I am and have even expressed appreciation for the way this academic bent comes out sometimes. I have great people to work with – those on staff and those of you who are lay leaders.
Sometimes we pastors divide ourselves from our people. We use phrases like “your church.” My attitude is that if this church isn’t “my church” then there’s not much point in my being here. If you have to live in one place all your life or be the most recent of several generations in a place to truly be at home, then I’ll never be home. When we consider the Pittsburg tenure of everyone in the room tonight, I’m one of the newest here. But my calling is to make this town – and this church – my home as long as I’m here. This is where I’m committed. United Methodist polity says my membership is in the Annual Conference, and I understand what that is about. But for all effects and purposes my membership is here. I tithe my income here. I pour my energy here.
We – notice I say “we,” not “you” – face a number of challenges this year. These challenges are not new or peculiar to us here in Pittsburg.
The first challenge is the most obvious, but the one that counts for the least in the light of eternity. I’m speaking of our finances. We have a historic sanctuary and an aging church plant. We have money due on our renovations and more work needs to be done. This need will never go away. We also have a budget increase. Again. Adding a part time staff person to do children’s ministry may sound extravagant. Some might say, “How can you add staff when you already owe so much? Shouldn’t you pay off the debt first?” Perhaps we’ve allowed ourselves to be deceived. Cindy Strait led the children’s ministry these past few years, giving hours and hours every week. It cost her family financially. Over that time we got the idea that that much ministry could always be done for free. The church leadership doesn’t think so. We also don’t think it’s intelligent to put children’s ministry on hold until we get our debt paid off. When we look at our mission as a church it doesn’t make sense to say to families with children, “Why don’t you just take your kids to another church until we get our debt paid? Then we’ll be glad to have you!”
I’ve seen too many churches that hit a financial crunch after doing building work who respond to the crunch by doing the obvious: cutting ministry and staff. Then they wonder why people stop coming. However much all of us love our buildings, it’s not the buildings that attract or keep people. It’s us. As I’ve said before, we’re in the people business.
The foundation of a church’s finances is the tithes of its members. Tithing is more than putting something in the plate each week. It’s giving ten percent of your income. That’s really easy to figure. Someone asks, “Do I tithe my gross salary or my net?” I don’t care. If our people tithe, we’ll make it fine.
So tithes are the foundation. Additionally we have special offerings. Some in the congregation have been blessed in the area of resources, so they are able to give beyond a tithe, especially when it comes to special projects. From what Jerry Massey tells me, you’ve already given more than a hundred thousand more to our renovation projects than what the experts said you would. Our church has a strong heritage of responding to needs when they arise. We also need people who remember the church in their wills – people who want to see their legacy of faith continue on for the generations to come.
What about fundraisers? We have our annual Lord’s Acre next Saturday. Fundraisers can be a lot of fun, and when successful, can bring in thousands of dollars. But whose money is it? Many times it is our own. I’ve never understood why we need to have fundraisers to get money out of some church people. Fundraisers that draw in from outside the church – those make more sense. It’s like the Israelites plundering the Egyptians. Maybe someday I’ll get it. In short: fundraisers are good, but woe to the church that depends on them in any significant way.
It all boils down to trusting God in the area of money. I hope I do a decent job of modeling that for you. I know I’ve seen the Finance Committee and the Administrative Council do it in the past year.
Our second big challenge is activating the whole body. We have over 400 members. We have a goal of averaging 200 in worship – a milestone this church hasn’t reached since 1966. We’re really close. Do you know why we’re so close? Because you’ve been committed. You’ve been coming. You’ve been inviting your friends and neighbors.
Of course attendance in worship is only the beginning of activating the Body. When I read the bible I see that God’s plan is to have all members of the body connected to each other, growing in relationship to Jesus (the head of the body), actively involved in ministry, and vigorously influencing outsiders toward the Kingdom.
Body activation in this sense then, is the main reason for the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign that starts next month. It will be a concentrated time for all our people to deepen their connections to, in and through the body.
If you think activating the body and getting the finances under control are big challenges, just wait till you hear the last one I’m going to mention. In the Great Commission Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of all nations by going to them, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. Does that sound big enough? We, like most churches in the country, are mostly configured around taking care of ourselves. We think of membership conferring privileges. We see ourselves as the recipients of the ministry done by the minister. The biblical model, however, is for God’s people to let him do his work in their lives so that the watching world can see, wonder, and ask questions. Through what they see of God in us – and I mean more than seeing that we’re nice people – and through what they learn from our bold response to their questions, they can come to the place where they are ready to give their lives to Jesus. It’s at this point that membership make sense – not membership as a claiming of rights, but membership as a taking up of responsibilities, of joining in the mission of Jesus.
Reaching outside the church in evangelism is another aim of the 40 Days of Purpose. That’s why we need more than just Sunday School – why we need to have groups meeting during the week as well. That’s why I keep talking to you about getting a Spanish language group going as well. We need to invite people. We need to offer them Christ.
Our internet ministry is also expanding, enabling us to reach the world. Sunday messages are now available to the world at streamgarden.tv. I’ve recently started a weblog where I post my commentary on what’s happening in the world from a Christian point of view. You can get links to both of these by checking out our website – www.fumcpittsburg.com.
If we pay all our bills, whip our debt and have piles of cash laying around, I’ll be happy, but I won’t be satisfied. If all four hundred plus of our members start coming to worship and get involved in the ministry, I’ll be happy, but I won’t be satisfied. I’m not going to rest – I’m not going to stop crying out to God until we become a place where people are regularly coming to faith in Jesus, crossing the line of commitment to Jesus and to the church.
Does all that sound impossible yet? Does it sound like something we can’t do? Does it sound like a set of goals we will definitely fail to reach – unless God intervenes? That’s the thing – we’re trying things that are hard and difficult – things outside the norm. We can fail. We need resources beyond our own, the chief being a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit that not only empowers us, not only sweeps away our apathy and lethargy, but also opens our mouths and lives to the watching world.
That’s what I’m working and praying toward. Will you join me?