Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't sacrifice small churches on altar of economics

Shifting Paradigms

The time is long overdue for a dramatic paradigm shift in how our appointment system serves small-membership churches. To abandon them is cowardly. We deeply believe that Wesleyan “grace upon grace” theology is more therapeutic and holistically redemptive than religious “brands” that preach emotionalism, prosperity gospel or harsh legalism.

In the country where I grew up, we had two sayings regarding this. One referred to a “chicken house complex” where any chicken with a drop of blood was pecked to death by the other chickens. We must guard against this judgmentalism in churches that are small. (The challenge of large churches, on the other hand, is overcoming anonymity.)

The other saying was “the chickens are coming home to roost” if poor farming practices—such as the absence of soil conservation, contour farming, use of legumes or rundown farm equipment—gradually reduced the harvests. All these agrarian terms have parallels in the church and will likewise lead to reduced spiritual harvests.

Kennon Callahan of Emory University was right a score of years ago when he insisted that the “age of the local church is over; the age of the mission station has come.” The answer is not in the size of the congregation; the answer is in re-kindling the flame of relational evangelism, enhancing missional ministry at the local level and deploying our personnel through a covenantal relationship between conference and congregation rather than the obsolete method of appointment-making.

Dr. Haynes is a retired member of the Western North Carolina Conference and current interim pastor of Kallam Grove Christian Church.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Let’s recover class meetings and share pastoral ministry

Steve Manskar, Sep 6, 2010

By Steve Manskar
Special Contributor

A recent story in The Tennessean, “Clergy Sacrifice Health for Flock,” caught my attention. It quotes Nashville area pastors struggling to balance the demands of pastoral ministry, family and self-care.

All-too-often, there is no balance. The demands on the time and energy of clergy leaves little time for exercise, a healthy diet and Sabbath rest.

The end result is increasing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes among Protestant clergy in North America. In other words, pastoral ministry is destroying the well-being of clergy.

This growing trend is also a symptom of a dysfunctional, enculturated church that David Lowes Watson describes in his book Forming Christian Disciples (Wipf and Stock, 2002):

“Instead of places where people come to be formed as Christian disciples, congregations . . . become places where people are primarily concerned with being helped and blessed. Instead of finding how they can serve the risen Christ in the world, proclaiming and living out the coming reign of God, they . . . look for ways in which they themselves can be enriched by God’s love and peace and justice. And even when they do make a serious attempt to form their members into Christian disciples, they will tend to focus on the development of personal spiritual growth to the neglect of helping Jesus Christ with the unfinished task of preparing the world for God’s coming shalom.”

Staff’s burden

Such congregations have become providers of religious goods and services. They are places of sanctuaries where members go to escape the world. The pastor and paid church staff spend most of their time and energy providing the programs people expect. They are also expected to visit the sick and homebound members, and comfort the grieving.

Their time is consumed with meeting the needs of the congregation. In these times of economic hardship and declining membership, church leaders are under increasing pressure to keep current members happy and do all they can to attract new members. As paid staff, the responsibility for all this work falls on their shoulders. It is no wonder that the stress of unrealistic expectations and demands is affecting their health.

This is a wake-up call for United Methodist congregations. We have within our DNA the means to address this growing problem: the class meeting and class leaders.

The class meeting is a system of small groups designed to teach people the basics of Christian discipleship and provide support for living in the world as a follower of Jesus Christ. The class meeting provided much of the pastoral ministry in early Methodism. They equipped lay members to provide pastoral care and support for their sisters and brothers in Christ. This freed preachers to focus on the work they were called to do: proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments and order the life of the congregation.

Class leader’s role

Class leaders were (are) lay pastoral ministers who work in partnership with the preacher/pastors. They do the bulk of the pastoral care and nurture now required by the ordained/licensed appointed clergy. The work of the class leader is to help the members of his or her class to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ and to do the pastoral work of visiting them when they get sick and experience life crises and transitions. The key here is that class leaders are mature Christian women and men who are affirmed by the congregation and work in partnership with the ordained/licensed appointed clergy to see that the pastoral ministry of the church is faithfully performed.

Pastoral ministry is historically the responsibility of the congregation; it should not be the sole responsibility of the clergy. Unfortunately, mainline churches in North America have done an excellent job training clergy and laity to believe that pastoral ministry is the work of the clergy. They are the “experts” who have been trained. This, of course, is a lie. The consequence is a disempowered, passive laity.

It’s no wonder that many clergy get caught up in this lie and end up overweight, suffer from heart disease and diabetes. Is this the church of Jesus Christ who came proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the Good News”?

The Rev. Manskar is director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship. E-mail: smanskar@gbod.org