In seminary some years ago one of my professors offered a piece of reality when he told us – 5% of your congregation will think you can walk on water. Another 5% of your congregation will think you don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. The other 90% just want to get out of church on time.
I know someone who was very literally in that first 5%. One year Tanya was teaching a group of kids in Vacation Bible School. They were around the age of first grade, and Tanya was quizzing them about some Biblical events. She asked the question who can walk on water? One young lady raised her hand, and displaying wisdom far beyond her years said, Dave can. Tanya still hasn’t recovered from that comment.
It’s an interesting life, being a minister. This morning, as we continue our series of messages about spiritual gifts, we come to another in the category of relational gifts – pastoring. Most people probably think this gift is reserved for members of the clergy, but it is not.
There are three primary terms that refer to people who serve as clergy – preacher, pastor, and minister. Each term refers to a specific role and specific gift, but those roles and those gifts are not exclusive to those who are vocational ministers.
People sometimes call me preacher, but my role is more than just preaching. It’s my most visible role, but I am also charged with being a pastor. The pastoral role is to provide pastoral care. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes, family homes, and other places listening to people and to their joys and their struggles, and it is a gift that people open a door into their lives in the midst of all manner of circumstances. I’m also a minister, which is the root of the word administration. In some societies government officials are referred to as ministers – the minister of agriculture, minister of education, etc.
The most recognizable expression of being in ministry is that of preaching. Plenty of people preach sermons, although most are not given in church.
I want to take a few minutes and talk about the need not only for vocational ministers, but the need for strong lay leaders.
One of the critical issues facing churches is the shortage of vocational ministers. I am a vocational minister, and as such am becoming somewhat of a dinosaur. By virtue of my age I have a foot in two different worlds. I am old enough to remember the “golden age” of church life, when a church growth program consisted of opening the door, turning on the lights, and getting out of the way of the crowd. In that era it wasn’t difficult to get people to come to church; they simply showed up. My other foot is in the newer era, where many people have fled institutional religion. Many people now see no need to be connected to a church in order to meet their spiritual needs. This has brought about significant changes in the way ministry is done, and the depth of the changes and the accompanying stresses are among the reasons why many people do not stay in ministry. The declining number of ministers has lad to the reality that many churches – of all sizes – are finding it is a struggle to find vocational ministers. Disciples churches, in fact, are beginning to adapt to this new reality by creating in many of our Regions a different track for ordination that does not require as many years of education and training. It is in recognition of the changing landscape of church life that for churches to have ministers, an increasing number of those ministers will not come to ministry through the traditional channels.
This is a trend that is not entirely negative. I believe that in some ways churches have ceded over too much to vocational ministers. I believe we need vocational ministers, but I also believe we need very strong, very prepared lay leaders.
I am not picking on vocational ministers when I say this – I am, after all, a vocational minister – but ministers can sometimes be the primary barriers to the growth of a congregation. Ministers sometimes take too much responsibility and too much authority upon themselves, and this strangles the life out of a congregation. Congregations really come to life when they identify, nurture, and train strong lay leaders. The Catholic Church has learned this lesson, as the number of priests decline to very low levels. The Catholic Church learned they must develop lay people to lead many of their congregations.
We must also help people of all ages when they have even a small inclination that they are being called to vocational ministry, and camp is one of the ways we can help people to identify that gift. I grew up going to church camp, and it was very important to my faith development. At a board meeting for the Christian Churches in Kentucky last fall Greg Alexander, our Regional Minister – asked how many of the ministers discovered their call to ministry through camp. Would you like to guess how many raised their hands? Every one. Isn’t that amazing? Unfortunately, one of the greatest financial challenges facing us as Disciples in Kentucky comes from the financial needs of our camps.
Like some of our other gifts, this is a gift that can be developed. Indeed, I would argue that in our present social climate, it is a gift that must be developed. We are progressing in some ways. We are progressing scientifically, technologically, and medically, but I find it hard to deny that we are regressing in other ways – spiritually, morally, and socially – the ways in which we relate to one another.
And, very significantly, as our society ages, there are so many people who are joining the ranks of those forgotten by the larger society. At our previous church, in my last several years there, I also served as the chaplain at the local nursing home. There were residents of the home who never received a visitor from anyone other than staff or other residents. Never.
Pastoral care is a gift we give to other people. Jesus, in telling this parable about the one lost sheep, is saying that no one can be left behind or forsaken by others. We ask ourselves how do we pastor others in a world that moves with increasing speed and constantly piles responsibilities upon us? I don’t know; I just know we are called to do so.
If you saw the video of the bus monitor being bullied by the group of middle school students in New York you probably asked what is happening to our world? What is happening is with alarming frequency we are losing the capacity to care for one another, as we live in a world that increasingly leaves others behind while demonstrating a growing hardness of heart towards others.
This one is a little easier.
I am not an administrator. I wish it were my gift, but it is not. At the beginning of the year I purchased two notebooks. One was for my calendar, which is about three inches thick, because I purchased a calendar with so many extra pages, thinking it would help my lack of organization. The other notebook has a section for the various areas of our church, and in each of those sections I keep notes and reminders. The problem is, it’s a lot just to keep up with those two notebooks. And when I took my big, thick calendar to meetings people would laugh at it. I finally got a small, pocket calendar for carrying around so I don’t have people laughing at me. But now I have to put information in my organizational notebook, my big calendar, my little calendar, my phone, and my online calendar. I don’t have enough time to keep organized. I’m grateful we have Racene and others who are gifted at administration.
Some of you are wonderful at organizing and recruiting and planning – all those things that keep a church, a family, a business, or a civic club working. That’s a gift I wish I had.
Here is an important reminder I want to leave you with this morning – these gifts are not ones you can measure in the traditional ways of measuring. It has become a joke at our house, and even here at church a few times, that I have attempted to build a deck behind our house. This is the third summer of working on the deck and I’m still not finished! I need to repair a few places on the old deck and then stain it and I’m finished. It’s really ridiculous.
And then there’s the inside of the house, where I am very slowly painting. It would be so much easier to hire someone, and Tanya would be eternally grateful if I did, but there’s a reason why I don’t. It may be a crazy reason, but it’s a powerful reason to me. When I work on our deck, or when I paint a room, it’s something I can do and I can see what I’ve done and I know when I’m done. Those two things are not often present in my life, and when any of us are engaged in ministry we find it is rare that we can see what we have done. We rarely get to see the difference we make in the life of another person and we never get to enjoy the sense that our work is complete.
That’s okay. Don’t ever try to measure the effectiveness of your own ministry in the standard ways of measuring, but know that your ministry makes a difference.