"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." Bilbo Baggin in The Fellowship of the Ring
Every once in a while I run across a blog entry that I find to be so dead-on that I feel compelled to share it with my readers. I found one such post today; Porn and the Paper Pastor by Dan Phillips. He sets the stage for his main point in the first half of the post and then drives it home in the second.
While I don't want to spoil it, let me just say that as a local church pastor the many of joys and challenges I experience come from the fact that I know and love my people with all their warts and my people know and love me with mine.
On July 1 I will officially become the pastor at the United Methodist Church of LeMars. It will be a privilege and an honor to lead this part of the family of God.
A couple of days ago I wrote about what I will miss when Julie & I say "goodbye" to New Sharon. Today I want to mention some things that I am looking forward to when we say "hello" to the people in LeMars.
1) I'm looking forward to leading a group of people who aren't afraid of change. The congregation has experienced an incredible among of change in the last few years. I believe these changes have paved the way for a bright future. One of the things I have told a number of people about the LeMars' church is that they don't have a Sunday School program. Rather, they invest their energy into a midweek program that has paid great dividends. That's a change in the way of doing ministry that few congregations could begin to imagine. It is this imaginative spirit and a willingness not to do things just because "that's the way we've always done it," that excites me.
2) Since one of my spiritual gifts in teaching, I'm looking forward to helping the church build a strong adult discipleship ministry. I've long believed in trickle down spirituality. By that I mean the spiritual depth and maturity of an entire congregation is determined primarily by the spiritual depth and maturity of its leaders. One cannot pass on something that one does not possess. In the little time that I spent with a few folks from LeMars, I sensed their desire to deepen their faith.
3) Having lead "contemporary" worship for more than a decade and having developed the technological skills necessary to do this, I'm looking forward to leading the church into the brave new world of 21st century ministry. This is not always an easy transition, but I believe the people have demonstrated that they are up to the challenge.
4) I'm looking forward to developing new friendships and experiencing the personal growth that will come with learning to love God's people in this congregation. In the end, Christian life and ministry come down to relationships. It's all about loving God and loving our neighbors.
5) Since I mentioned that I will miss cheesy potatoes, I have to say living in the ice cream capital of the world sounds like a fair trade. I'm glad there are plenty of places I'll be able to ride my bike around LeMars. I have a feeling I'm going to need the exercise!
Rev. Sky McCraken posted an excellent commentary on UM Reporter titled, "Homosexuality debate-a new form of idolatry?" He points out that for most United Methodists the debate over homosexuality is way down on the priority list:
"I do know as a district superintendent and former pastor, homosexuality is far, far, far down the list of issues that are obstacles or even problems in our local churches. Local churches want to know: How can we equip ourselves better to make disciples? How can we be in mission in our community? What do we need to change in order to be effective at being the Church?"
He goes on to dream about what he would do if he were elected as a General Conference delegate:
"If I were a delegate, I would try to get on the floor and ask for a moratorium on the word, and any derivative of the word, homosexual. Why? We simply don’t have the luxury to debate it anymore. Not when so much more is at stake and at risk."
That sounds to me like a wonderful dream. After 30 years of debating this issue it's time to put an end to it so that we can focus as a demonination on the truly important issues which we face. But I am enough of a realist to know that's a pipe dream. Only the most naive can believe that the debate will end. Those who would change our stance have sold their souls to this issue. It is their god for which they will fight regardless of how much damage it does to the church.
Therefore, while I wish I didn't have to write about this issue, there are far more important and pleasant things I'd like to talk about, however I will continue to defend our church's position against those who would force the UMC to bow down to their idol.
In about 3 1/2 months, Julie and I will be packing up our things and moving to LeMars where I will assume the position as the pastor for the LeMars UMC. Though we've been through this process a number of times, this will be my sixth charge, saying goodbye never gets easier. We've known for several months that a move may have been in the works and we're excited about the possibilities for serving God that lie in front of us. Still, there are things I'm going to miss a great deal when we leave New Sharon. At the risk of leaving something out let me mention a few things.
I'll miss the tremendous staff which makes this congregation run. Each one of them is sold-out for the kingdom of God and have such a great heart for ministry. I'll never forget the first Sunday we were in New Sharon. Julie & I arrived at the church and the street was crowded with people. The youth were getting set to take off on their first TeenServe trip and the air was filled with excitement. That atmosphere of anticipation, that God is going to move in our midst is rooted in the staff's love for Jesus and their faith that God is active in our world.
I'm going to miss the wonderful times of worship. The worship team has about doubled in size since I arrived thanks to great paid and unpaid servant leaders. It is obvious each Sunday that the individuals who help lead worship aren't doing it for their own glory but rather so that others can connect with God. Their voices and musical talent have given me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes on many occasions as the Spirit worked through them.
I'm going to miss the youth. The first confirmation class I had here gave me the nickname PJ and it has stuck. The youth of this congregation play such an active role within the life of the congregation. They model faithfulness and servanthood and this congregation won't be the same without them.
I'll miss cheesy potatoes. The UMW ladies who prepare and serve at funeral dinners provide a ministry that touches grieving people's lives. The cheesy potatoes have come to represent for me the warm and comfort their love for others provides.
I'll miss the love and support of so many people who have been understanding of my weaknesses and caused me to stretch and grow spiritually. Since I announced our move yesterday, several individuals have said that Julie & I have had an impact on their lives. I thank God for this. I'm convinced no one truly comprehends the role we play in others' lives and I'm sure the people of the New Sharon UMC have little idea how much they have meant to me and how much they have helped me become a better person and a better pastor.
I could go on for quite some time, but I don't want to get all melancholy so I'll stop here. As I have reflected back over my years in New Sharon and prepare to say goodbye, I give thanks God for them, while at the same time I look forward with hope and thanksgiving to what lies in store for Julie and I when we say hello to the folks of LeMars. I'll share my thoughts about that soon.
I attended a pastors' orientation meeting for the Healthy Church Initiative which the Southeast District is sponsoring. It's a program for church revitalization that was developed by the Missouri Conference. I have some friends who live in Springfield, MO whose church has completed the process and they are seeing positive changes in their church.
One of the key ideas of yesterday's session is that there has been a paradigm shift within our culture. This paradigm shift isn't a gradual evolutionary change, rather it's a radical replace of the old with the new. As we talked about this I was reminded of a story:
Back in the old west a calvary unit sent out a scout to check out the trail. After some time the troops came upon their buckskin clad scout laying down with his ear to the ground. The captain called the soldiers to a halt and asked the scout, "What is it?" Without lifting his head he said, "A red stage coach pulled by four horses, two brown, two black passed here ten minutes ago. It's carrying three passengers, two men and a woman. The woman is wearing a blue hat." The captain was impressed, "Wow! You can tell all that by putting your ear to the ground." "No," the scout replied, "The stage coach ran over me ten minutes ago."
It seems to me than many pastors and churches are like that scout. They are aware of what has passed by; changes in means of communication, changes in attitudes toward institutions, changes in the way people gather and assimilate information, changes in people's view of religion and spirituality; and they end up feeling run over.
It is my hope that as the pastors and churches which are participating in the HCI will arise, point to where 21st century people are at, and say, "They went this way, let's go after them," rather than being content to lay in the dirt and wonder what happened.