Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A church that doesn't suck

At a recent gathering of under 40 UM clergy in the Cal-Pac Conference we were talking about the kind of church we want. A friend of mine mentioned that he wants a church that "doesn't suck". It reminded me of another friend who during the reading of appointments in his annual conference uses the line from the wily cajun played by Rob Schneider in the movie "The Waterboy" when Adam Sandler's character is booted from the team for NCAA infractions, "Oh no, we suck again!". It is driving the question home about how we create a church that doesn't suck.

I have two responses to that. The first is fairly short. The second owes much of its thought to Brian Stoffregen over at Crossmarks, where I do a good bit of commentary study for sermon preparations.

The first thought is just an observation. For years we have told our pastors that they need to be total pastors. Therefore, when we have found a weakness with them (a place where they "suck" if you will) we send them to get training to "fix" it. In doing so we have shortchanged their gifts, wasted more time and energy and run out passion in individuals to grow the church from their strength. The point of Spiritual Giftedness is that we work best from our strengths and the multiple strengths of the people and congregations are what bring us the greatest fruit. We are in the instance of trying to fix another pastor's suckiness essentially trying to make an olive tree bear peaches. It doesn't work,and causes us to suck even more.

With that said, then, there are some places we can look for strength and build on them. It helps to point out the weaknesses, but mostly as a means of avoidance. To that end, let me offer my latest column for the Del Rosa newsletter, which was driven by some excerpts from a sermon I gave the week before that seems to bear repeating.

In my recent reading of commentaries of Sunday sermons I ran across this helpful piece from Brian Stoffregen. The statements are generalizations, but they can help us find focus. We have been studying our mission recently as well as our vision, and we continue to do so with the Visioning our Future Team. We are doing many of the things in both the mission and the maintenance church. Our challenge is always to be looking toward the future and how we can be in mission for the future. There is a tradition among many of the Native American tribes that a member of the tribal council has a duty and responsibility to speak specifically and only for those who come in the 7th generation from the moment of that council meeting. Let us too look to the future, and consider how we can be a better “mission” church.


Pastor David


1. In measuring the effectiveness, the maintenance congregation asks, "How many pastoral visits are being made?” The mission congregation asks, "How many disciples are being made?"

2. When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, "If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won't do it." The mission congregation says, "If this will help us reach someone on the outside, we will take the risk and do it."

3. When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, "How will this affect me?" The majority of members in the mission congregation ask, "Will this increase our ability to reach those outside?"

4. When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, "We have to be faithful to our past." The mission congregation says, "We have to be faithful to our future."

5. The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, "I'd like to introduce you to some of our members." In the mission congregation the members say, "We'd like to introduce you to our pastor."

6. When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congregation asks, "How can I meet this need?" The pastor in the mission congregation asks, "How can this need be met?"

7. The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds). The mission congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what needs to be done.

8. The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly. The leadership style in a mission congregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.

9. The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees. The mission congregation is concerned with the culture, with understanding how secular people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determine their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.

10. When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregations asks, "How many Methodists live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?" The mission congregation asks, "How many unchurched people live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?"

11. The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, "How can we get these people to support our congregation?" The mission congregation asks, "How can the Church support these people?"

12. The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation. The mission congregation thinks about how to reach the world."



At November 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I appreciate your thoughts here...and thanks for sharing your bold article for your newsletter. Lots of good stuff in there....
I agree, as my friend Nicole R. would say, that we are not called to be "Super Pastors." But would you not agree that part of why we "suck" is that we are okay with mediocrity? Sometimes I sense the reason we are forced through training hoops among other things is because they are too nice and they don't want to tell us the truth-- no amount of training will make us super pastors....even if we put on the stretchy pants and capes! Again, it is all about understanding what it means to be pastor in this context...

At November 09, 2006, Blogger John Meunier said...

Your comments about total pastors struck a chord with me. I am just on the front end of my candidacy, but I already know I will bring both strengths and weaknesses to this calling.

The idea of being sent to repair my faults to the neglect of my gifts is a daunting thought.

I think of a book I read recently from the (*gasp*) business world that suggests that the key to strong organizations is building on people's strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.

At November 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mission congregation asks, "How many disciples are being made?"

Or if any are being made at all.


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