God is Still Speaking

How does one keep from coasting? I think about this. On one hand I enjoy a certain pattern in my work; write my sermons early in the week, get the bulletins done 10 days early, visit people in distress immediately, visit people who I haven’t seen for a while next, visit people who like to connect but find that process challenging after that, read and think about studies to undertake in the coming months. That is my pattern and it has served me well. At the same time I know how easy it would be to keep at this pattern and never experience the necessary discomfort that brings growth and new life. I have colleagues who go away to conferences and seminar and come back with “shiny new toys”, ideas they believe will bring them and their churches new life. Some of my colleagues do this well and some pretend it is for their church when in reality the benefit is primarily for them.

In any event going away has its opportunities for something new. I have seen and heard some of this. But rarely has a trip or gathering led me to something new that I felt would work where I am, work with the gifts of the lay leaders in the churches I serve, work with my own gifts. Besides many of the ideas are so intense and radical to what is present one wonders if it is fair for one person, me, to propose something so non-organic and paradigm shifting. That is why I look for books, lectures, ideas, that fit well with my own style and vision and connect with an existing passion that can be found presently in the church I serve.

I think that is why most of these ideas found elsewhere dropped into a church setting by the Minister so rarely live on past that Minister’s tenure. It is also why lay leaders look at these ideas more as something cathartic for their Minister and less about the long-term health of their congregation. If I look back over these 28 years at the assortment of these big ideas I can list several; small groups, two services, a designated welcoming space at the Entry Way of the church, praise bands, a labyrinth, Taize, healing services, pub nights, worship on days other than Sunday, liturgical dance, and drama in worship, to name a few. All of these ideas were at one time in my 28 years of Ordained Ministry the thing, only to surpassed and forgotten a few years later.

That is not to say we should shy away from new things, trying something different. I am a strong believer that people have an appetite for a new experience, as long as people understand where it is coming from and why trying it would be beneficial. My rule of thumb is how organic the idea is and how it works when it is offered in the best possible way. If it comes from the people in the church, if people respond to it with some enthusiasm, it is worth doing again and I do. Almost all of the best ideas I have found to give my Ministry new life and add passion to the Churches I serve have come from lay people whom I visit. Granted I have the time, experience and education to flesh out these ideas, to consult with experts on how to make the raw idea more polished, to dig into the thought behind the idea, but the basic idea itself comes from the people in the pews, not me. Thus the chances the idea will outlast me when I am gone is far better than usual.

The ideas do come and they come from some unlikely sources. The most important gifts I can bring are openness, discernment and creativity. Not all of these ides will work, most won’t and we need the courage to say “this is not working” when that reality is clear. But experimentation is crucial to the well-being of a Church and the Minister can play a vital role in listening and consulting with parishioners in developing a process of getting there. God is still speaking…