Responding to Bishop Huie's Challenge
Part 1: Current Reality – We live in a small town. Though it will continue to be small for the foreseeable future, we not only have new people moving in, but we have long term residents who do not participate in any church. There are plenty of people to reach. Some of these are a lot like us. We already have connections with some of them so we can invite them into the life of the church. Others, however, are form a completely different cultural background. They speak Spanish rather than English. It’ll take more work to reach them. I’ve spoken with Rev. Jaime Lopez, the incoming pastor at Far de Luz UMC in Mt. Pleasant about finding a way to partner with them to start a work in Pittsburg. More on this below. Another aspect of our current reality is that we are an established church. We celebrate our sesquicentennial in 2 years. Our facilities are older and their recent renovation has left us in debt. We can look at this debt and continuing expense as reason to hold back on ministry with the idea that we need to conserve scarce resources. I think that such a move will be deadly for us. Why? We’re in the people business, not the building business. When paying for and maintaining the buildings crowds out reaching people, we’re defaulting on our calling.
Part 2: Jesus’ Model of Discipleship
A. Radical Hospitality – This goes beyond friendliness. Jesus was notorious for spending time with outsiders – with people whose lives were broken. There are plenty of outsiders here in Pittsburg. Some we see as they come in for help with food. Some we see in Wacky Wednesday, FISH, and the Youth Ministry. As we find ways to draw in the Spanish-speaking community and the poor and broken, we will be practicing radical hospitality.
B. Passionate Worship – I (like some of you) like contemporary style worship. I (like some of you) like traditional style worship. More important than style is connecting with God in worship. Singing is important – I’d love to see the sanctuary full of exuberant, joyous worshipers every Sunday. This kind of worship will draw people in and help them experience God.
C. Faith-forming relationships and experiences – Early Methodism was built on small groups. We have good Sunday school classes, but right now less than half of our average worship attendees go to Sunday School. We need to start more small groups, not only for the people we now have, but also as entry points for new people.
D. Risk taking Ministry and Service – This can be scary stuff. Failure is possible. Doing the Agape House ministry was an exercise in this direction. I’m so thankful that we have leaders who are willing to take risks and try new things. We’ll be trying a lot more (and probably failing at a few) before we’re done. The main thing is, We’re in the people business, so we’ll be investing in ways to connect them with Jesus.
E. Extravagant Generosity – Little that is worthwhile comes cheap. Oh, some things don’t cost much money – just, blood, sweat, toil and tears. Doing the ministry God calls us to will mean that we can’t live as a poverty church (controllers of scarce resources). We’ll have to live as stewards of God’s abundance – in our lives as individuals, families and as a church. One of the economic changes that has hit churches in the past generation is the number of families with 2 full time workers outside the home. People have less volunteer time available, and more organizations clamoring for it. This has given churches two choices: (1) Cut ministry; (2) Hire staff to fill in the gap. Although it’s expensive, I’m glad we’ve taken the second option. No church, however, can afford to hire enough people to do all the ministry that needs doing. This extravagant generosity, therefore, calls not only for financial stewardship, but also time stewardship.
Part 3: Vision
Bishop Huie named four elements in her vision – I know more will come later.
- New Church starts – Starting 10 new churches a year is a major change from the way we’ve been doing things. It is sufficiently impossible that if God doesn’t step in we will fail. What’s our role? We need to keep our eyes open even here. As a strong congregation we may be able to give birth to a Hispanic Methodist church here.
- Revitalizing existing congregations – We’re going to have to ratchet up our learning and skills development. We won’t be able to survive, let alone thrive, by doing things the way we’ve always done them. I have a lot of growing to do, and I assume I’m not the only one.
- Focus on Youth and Young Adults – The studies I’ve read show that churches that invest in a full time youth pastor have more impact on youth. I’m thankful we started thinking that way before I got here. Those same studies show that churches need to (and can!) overcome the divorce between youth and adult culture.
- Recruitment, training and retention of effective leadership – If the Conference is going to plant 10 churches a year, we’ll need a bunch more pastors. I think some of those new pastors can come out of this congregation. We also need to develop more leadership training for our local leaders so we can stay beyond the model of managing scarce resources model of church.