Good Questions asked by Jeffrey D. Jones

Good and insightful questions are asked by Jeffrey D. Jones[1] in helping to guide congregations in discerning the future mission of the church.

 

  1. One question that has been asked consistently through the years, and even more so in these days of declining church membership is, “How do we bring them in?” It would be better for us to ask, “How do we send them out?”

  1. In these days of changing roles and responsibilities many wonder, “What should the pastor do?” But a more important question for congregations today is “What is our shared ministry?” 
  1. When congregations focus on strategic planning they ask, “What’s our vision and how do we implement it?” What would happen if they instead asked, “What’s God up to and how do we get on board?”

  2. When congregations have financial struggles, they ask, “How do we survive?” Instead they might ask, “How do we serve?”

  3. When congregations think about their mission, they often ask, “How do we save people?” or perhaps, “How do we help people?” A better question might be “How do we make the reign of God more present in this time and place?”

Congregations need to find new ways to think about what it means to be the vibrant, living Body of Christ.   I commend Pastor Jones article for your consideration found at    https://alban.org/2015/01/30/jeffrey-d-jones-new-questions-for-a-new-day/

[1]  New Questions for a New Day posted by Jeffery Jones on January 30 by Alban at Duke Divinity School.

Church Buildings Aligned (or not) with Mission

Many congregations with large and expensive buildings are struggling with the question of what to do with their buildings?   Do we stay and re-tool for the future in the use of the building?  Can we afford to stay in this building?  Do we sell the building?  This short quote from Brian Clark (Presbyterian Outlook[1]) was insightful and helped me re-focus on the right question to ask!

Whether the faith community is 1-year-old or has a 200-year history, the building must fit the purpose of that community today. It becomes problematic when the facility begins to dictate the mission rather than serve the mission…..

I struggle with this because the physical assets of the urban congregation I served (the building) is a huge asset for the congregation in serving the community.  This is the reason, in large part, why this congregation didn’t abandon the large and expensive church building many years ago.  The various uses of a church building can continue to be aligned with the mission of the congregation in serving the larger community.  Perhaps not!  It takes a careful discernment process to determine when or if the building ceases to be aligned with congregational mission priorities as a congregational asset.

Something to think about.  I commend this article by Brian Clark for reflection and discussion.   http://pres-outlook.org/2015/01/mortgaging-mission-god/

[1]  Mortgaging the Mission of God?, Brian Clark, Presbyterian Outlook, January 21, 2015   —  http://pres-outlook.org/2015/01/mortgaging-mission-god/

The Value of a Name

I could not, for the life of me, remember his name!   I could picture him.  His name was on the tip of my tongue.  I couldn’t remember his name.  Has this ever happened to you?

It was on Sunday while watching the Bronco’s and Colts playoff game that I spent more than a few agonizing moments trying to remember the name of the great football player and former quarterback of the Denver Broncos.  This isn’t supposed to happen!   This is ridiculous!  What’s his name?

Suddenly, my wife after doing a quick Google search (she also could not come up with the name), declared:  “His name is John Elway.”    Embarrassed!  As a former Coloradoan, I can’t believe I couldn’t remember this name! When we hear the name John Elway, I think immediately of his wonderful sixteen season football career as a Bronco quarterback.  He is now working as the vice-President of operations for the Broncos…as well as numerous lucrative business ventures around Denver.  I knew this stuff.  I couldn’t remember his name!   Unfortunately and sometimes embarrassed, I experience some challenges in remembering names.  I just couldn’t come up with his name.

Why share this embarrassing story?  While John Elway is a name that has a tremendous amount of value in the football world, we each have tens of thousands of names that point to the stories of the people behind these valuable names.   Just in the books we read — think about all the names behind the stories!

I learned years ago the value of paying attention to the names of people who assist me in cashing my check or serving my meal in a resturant.   Referencing a person’s name in conversations gives this person and his or her story value.  I promise, calling a waiter or bank teller by name will almost always guarantee better service!  If nothing else the “valuing of a person” by the use of his or her name is a way of saying:  “I appreciate you and what you are doing for me”.

For those in the clergy community, the world in which I live, I point you toward a blog written by Becca Messman — “Three Habits of Highly Effective Pastors[1].  She point out this truism:  There is nothing worse than calling a person by the wrong name!

And in forgetting names we may use the excuse:  “I’m not good with names”.  This is disastrous for pastors.  Pastor’s need to remember names!  While in daily life it’s important to remember the names of people around us, for clergy it’s an important part of our “valuing” the relationship we have with others as baptized members of the body of Christ.

In my last parish I took pride in knowing the name of every church member.  I always tried to call on people with the use of their name.  I am sure it helped that this was a smaller parish and we didn’t have that many visitors.

I also learned that when we had a visitor the value of learning of his or her name as soon as possible….in then using that name the next time I saw that visitor.  With a church in an urban setting, this was vitally important when it came to learning the names of people who would come to the church asking for assisance.  The first door I could open for a visitor was the use of his or he name.

This is also true with children.  We as clergy persons need to value these children by using their names.  Children are amazed that the pastor remembers his or her name!

So are you having a hard time remembering names?   I learned early in my ministry that there is no shame in pulling out a piece of paper and writing down a name.  The use of name tags in worship is a valuable asset in helping a larger congregation become a “community” of people — each with a name!  And this important point:  The first step in recalling the story of the person behind the name is the name itself.

Just some thoughts in thinking about John Elway and another man named “Rod” who just helped me get my car serviced.

[1] http://pres-outlook.org/2015/01/three-habits-highly-effective-pastors/

FILLED WITH HOPE, I AM WAITING

In this sacred Advent season of waiting and hoping I encountered an editorial written by John Wimberly (The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/22/14, pg 5) addressing a concern I have had for years.  My basic question:  Why don’t we give some of our churches more time before closing them?   John Wimberly says in his editorial:

The congregation I served for 30 years was almost closed and the building sold back in the 1970’s.  Thank God the congregation convinced the presbytery to give them more time for God to work through their ministry.  Today, Western Church is a vital, urban ministry where people worship God joyfully, children are educated and the homeless have been fed, clothed and given social services for more than 30 years…..thanks be to God that the majority of presbyters were in no rush to judgment.  They decided to wait with God for something to happen as Western Church.

I thank God for the urban church I served for 28 years, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan.  I am glad the church has an intentional transitional pastor, Rev. Jim Williams, working with this church and presbytery in helping this congregation determine their future.  I pray that the Presbytery of Lake Huron give this church time and resources to help them determine what God has planned next for them.

And thinking about church buildings, the church spends too much time worrying about real estate.  Let’s invest more time thinking about what we could do to maintain a Presbyterian witness in some of these buildings we decide to close.  I can name three former Presbyterian churches in Saginaw with buildings no longer under the Presbyterian umbrella that continue doing ministry in various neighborhoods (Grace, Washington Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue).

Buildings and dealing with church real estate is perhaps the one big obstacle in making the decision to close a church.  As John Wimberly continues to say:

When I see our judicatories selling off property (make that: congregations), I am profoundly troubled.  Unable to envision a successful ministry in the old Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, our presbytery sold the buildings in the early 1980’s to a coalition of community groups.  Today, the buildings house a thriving community center and a non-denominational church in one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods.  Others had and implemented a vision we lacked.

Again, I would hope that presbyters would consider holding onto these properties and ministries.  It is absolutely true that once a building is sold or torn down the opportunity for a Presbyterian ministry in that location probably ends forever.

It is my hope and prayer that some of the resources the Presbyterian Church invests in helping to form new congregations could be invested keeping some of our small struggling urban (and rural) church doors open.

I am waiting and hoping to see more of our urban (and small rural) churches find ways to keep their doors open.

BEST PRACTICES

As ministry practitioners, it’s never too late to learn from our colleagues!   Even in retirement, I continue to search for and embrace learning from the “BEST PRACTICES” of those who are doing neat things as their respective churches.  My only regret through the years is in not taking more time, while I was an active pastor, in searching out and learning from the best practices of others.

In retirement, I have been worshiping with my wife at the Second Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.  This is a healthy, good-sized, solid and stable church with lots of people in attendance.   It’s neat seeing the large choir and well over a dozen children up front for the weekly children’s message.    Some of the “best practices” from my experience in observing this pastor, Rev. Jim Neuman, and this congregation:

  1. Having a secretary in the office on Sunday morning to answer the phone and handle business of church members who cannot come to the office during the week.   What a great time to ask about your pledge!
  2. Having a teenager available to help park cars of those who are physically disabled.
  3. Lay leaders doing children’s messages.
  4. Wonderful assortment of music including the organ, piano, bells, brass, strings and a group called the “strummers and pluckers”.
  5. Greeters at the church entrances as well as the doors leading into the sanctuary.
  6. An informative, non-threatening assimilation process for those wishing more information about the church.
  7. Several subtle things I learned from the worship experience – little things that Jim Neumann did that most people who were not clergy would notice. Example, how he handles without a heart-beat the disruption caused by a fussy child or when a microphone battery failed to work.

Now granted, lots of churches are doing neat things.  What I am talking about are the little things we can learn from sister congregations in ‘tweaking’ what we are already doing as practitioners.

To get more specific:  I would commend to church pastors stepping up in locating those colleagues willing to share some of their “best practices”.   Your colleagues may also appreciate learning a few new things from you.  Rev. Tom Are Jr. writing for the “NEXT church”  (www.nextchurch.net):  His article:

Not One-Size-Fits-All”  (http://nextchurch.net/onesize/#.VIRZke4o61s)

 …..We have been called to ministry in a time where the landscape is shifting and the work is so diverse that there are many vital aspects of ministry that cannot, and I would argue should not, be taught in seminary.  Why? Because we are our best teachers for each other.

I called three friends who were engaged in ministry in similar contexts and I begged (not kidding) them for a 12 hour day to shadow, to talk strategy and practice and to learn how others spent their time.  Later, much to my surprised, they asked if I would return the favor. We then committed to meet together once a year for several days to share case studies, to vent frustrations, to pray and to remind one another why we are called to our particular ministries.  I wouldn’t say this small group of colleagues saved my life, but they did save a quality of life that I value.”

Tom Are Jr. is Senior Pastor of the Village Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Wherever you are in ministry, take some intentional time to identify the “best practices” of your colleagues.  May God bless us all in the work we do in Christ’s service.

Have you discovered: Theocademy?

‘Theocademy’  (http://www.theocademy.com/) is one of the best kept secrets in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   I heard of this series of FREE instructional lessons a few weeks ago.   This Theocademy was developed by Rev. Landon Whitsitt in partnership with several synods and ten Presbyterian Seminaries – and I understand plans are being made to create more lessons.  While these two groups of lessons were developed for New Members and Ruling Elders and Deacons, I believe they would make for an excellent Adult Education series of lessons.   I look forward to viewing new lessons as they are developed.  And yes, as mentioned before, these lessons are FREE!

JOURNAL: NEXT CHURCH — Good Reading!

I continue to thank the NEXT CHURCH for articles that engage in thoughtful reflection on the future of the church.  For me, there was a lot to think about in this particular article, “Why Church Boards Need to Die” by Bill Habicht posted on June 10, 2014.  It is a major challenge securing and empowering church members willing to think “outside the box” in doing the transformational/entrepreneurial work of the church.  I would think this would be a major challenge in small congregations  where members have to wear a variety of leadership hats. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

JOURNAL: PARALIZED?

This article by Thom Schutz resonated with me.  As pastors, how do we becomed agents of change?  

I was a long-term pastor of an urban church for over 28 years.  Through the years we worked through numerous changes in positive, creative and forward thinking ways.  Through the years we evolved from being a corporate-type church with a membership over 400 into a program-type church in the mid-90’s.  By the time I departed this ministry, because of health issues, this church of under 100 members was clearly a pastoral-type church still holding on to remnants of what the church used to be as a larger church. 

This small urban congregation with limited resources in a large and expensive building was going to have to face some serious questions about the future.  I reached the point of not being able to right person to lead the church through the transformational questions that would have to be asked about the future.

I wonder:  when faced with the reality that the church might die, did I become paralyzed?  I know one thing for sure:  I no longer had the health or energy to lead the congregation in asking the difficult questions that would have to be asked about the future.  I honestly fear I was killing myself!  I resigned the end of 2013 for health reasons.

Back to the article on change:  Consider #6:

Keep mission in mind. Evaluate possible changes on the basis of your true mission, rather than on lesser priorities. For example, are you more interested in reaching your community, or in satisfying members’ desires for nostalgia?

While, through the years I was honest with the congregation in talking through the implications of change, I was also paralized not wanting to let go of all in the church had been able to accomplish while on my watch.  I never lost hope that this coongregation could continue to figure out ways to serve the people in the communtiy for many years to come.  I just know I reached the point of not being the pastor to help them address important questions about the future.      

I wonder if there are pastoral collagues experiencing the same thing?

I cannot ignore NEXT Church articles/resources when they appear in my email or on Facebook.  The latest email, NEXT U: Mission Shift in Christian Education, through the eyes of Jen James asks critical questions not only for Church educators but congregation mission teams.

These are excellent questions recognizing “that the local church is only as healthy as the community surrounding it.” 

1. Where are the places of health in your community? Do you see this health reflected in your congregation? If so, how?

2. Where are the places of brokenness in your community? Are those places of brokenness present in the congregation too?

3. What breaks God’s heart in your community?

 

Link to article:

http://nextchurch.net/next-u-mission-shift-christian-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=next-u-mission-shift-christian-education#.U-Sz2u7D-1s

 

What will congregations look like in ten to twenty years?

Consider this comment made in response to an article on the question:  Do Congregations Matter?     

Congregations DO matter, but congregations that survive the next few decades will look very different. They will be less defined by geography or proximity and more defined by mission. They may no longer be membership-based!   Imagine a faith where you can “belong” to three or more churches—one because you like the music, one because you resonate with mission, another because of heritage, and another for charitable reasons. Some might be local. Some might be on the other side of the world.  People do this all the time in their secular lives, giving to local charities, international charities and actually working for others. Actually, they do this today within the Church when they send offerings to online ministries.   (Judith Gotwald in response to article by David Odom)[1]

 See this link for full article:  http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/07-21-2014/why-do-congregations-matter

What do you think?   What will congregations look like in the next ten to twenty years?

 

 

[1]   Call and Response Blog, http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/07-21-2014/why-do-congregations-matter