We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
2 Thessalonians 1:3
I had a meeting last week with pastors from churches around our size that sit along the I-44 corridor. All of these pastors have been in their appointments for around the same length of time I have been with you, all of them are Gen-Xers or younger, and all of our churches are growing United Methodist Churches despite the current trend of decline and fracture. We met to talk about how we could work together to help our churches. I am excited about some of the things we are planning, and I will look forward to our monthly meetings (which is not something I think I've ever said before).
Our opening question was "What if we imagined a future in which we shared our gifts among our churches, working in cooperation to provide a wider experience for our congregations?" None of them, for example, would teach Bible studies every day like I would, but they all teach other things that wouldn't be my cup of tea. I talked to him about offering a video-based class for us, and in exchange he could offer one of my Bible studies to his church. Then the ideas began to fly!
We're all looking for ways to expand
men's ministries in our churches, and several are working on perfecting a blended worship style. We are all planning to teach the exact same study later in the year, and we're all facing the same kinds of growing pains. It is awesome, in this long season in which our pastors have felt quite isolated, to find a group of pastors who are willing to think outside the box to re-forge our connected system locally.
The biggest takeaway for me was that we all really love our current appointments. When I reflected on the things I say about you, I realized this might be a moment to clarify the things I appreciate in you as a career United Methodist pastor.
1) I appreciate your openness to new ideas you understand. I learned right away that you have experienced a lot of change in your church lives through the years, and that the only ones that seemed to bother you were the ones you didn't understand. I have made a concerted effort to explain why we make changes, and you have responded with amiability and openness. Thank you.
2) I appreciate your willingness to dive deeper -- in faith, in Christian Education, in revelation of yourselves and your gifts. In a lot of churches, relationships stay pretty shallow because it is not very safe to show your true self. It's hard to go deep when people have masks on to protect themselves. A room full of masked people is not a great place to experience the reality of God's grace.
I'll be honest here; I was a little worried upon arrival because it was hard to break the surface. But when we broke through -- breakthrough! You're just slow to reveal yourselves. You're the real deal. You're a real church of Jesus Christ because you bring your real selves to Bible Study, to worship, and to fellowship. Thank you!
3) I appreciate your willingness to jump in and get things done or try new things. Being willing to try and fail means we can find what actually works. Your game! That is a phenomenal gift to have as a church community. Your current growth means that you are leveling up to the next size of church - the program church. We're no longer small enough to just get the word out about things on a phone tree. We have lots of things going on each week and more in the works. Keep jumping in, and we'll make it over this threshold. Thank you!
4) You have been incredible about inviting new people, welcoming new people,
and opening the church up to the community. We packed the house for the community service. We packed the choir loft and sanctuary at the Christian Church for Maundy Thursday. At the time I'm writing this, we're preparing to open up again for the Cherry Blossom festival concert. I'm so proud to serve a church that I know will show up when I say, "yes, we can hold that here." Thank you.
Together, you are changing the way we are perceived in the community in positive ways. An agnostic friend once told me that United Methodists are the (and then she made a face) churches. I pressed her on what the face she made meant, and she finally yelled, "SNOOTY! Methodists are known for being snooty!"
You, dear ones, are not snooty. You are real people with real problems working together to serve our very real God, and I am really, really happy to be your pastor.