UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany blesses the bread and juice for Holy Communion during the April 24 opening worship of General Conference. Bishop Wenner is the incoming president of the Council of Bishops.
“What’s best for the church?” As a pastor I try to make decisions based on the best answer I can muster to that question. It’s one of the best and most important things my mentor and friend, the Rev. Linda Misewicz-Perconte, taught me. Seeing decisions through that lens helps me to keep the wider context in mind, helps me to remember we’re not just planning a worship experience or a youth retreat or a meeting for its own sake. We’re trying to help a community of people live a faithful, authentic life of faith. We’re trying to follow God in the Way of Jesus. We’re trying to further God’s Way of justice, peace, and love.*
While she doesn’t use that phrase, “doing what’s best for the church”, Dr. Terri Martinson Elton seems to me to be getting at a similar hope for the church in her post today. Dr. Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary,** asks:
"Church, will our interaction matter? To you or to us? Will our time together be meaningful?"
As a pastor I very much want the time I spend with people in worship, in youth ministry, in meetings, in meals, in every way that we gather, to matter. The world is full of real people with real problems, real pain, real need. I believe the church can, should, and does have something to say to those real people, something to share with those real people. I’ve been known to ask of our congregation, “When, where, and how in the life of the church can we have deep conversations about things that matter?” Elton says it like this:
"Can you give routine and ritual, not just keep me busy? Can you create space for meaningful conversation, not just surface chatter? Can you proclaim God’s good news in a world of cluttered messages in a way I can hear it? Can you tell me, again and again, I am a child of God loved as I am, even when I don’t feel loved?" [read the rest]
I think we’re both striving for essentially the same thing: engaged people. People living as the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in the world. Because that is what is best for the church: living for and with Jesus in the real world.
But, as I read Elton’s post, I sense that she thinks it is all up to the church to make interactions matter. Maybe I’m being too defensive here. Please, tell me if I am. I can’t help but think that it is a two-way street, that it takes both intentional church leaders and engaged parishioners to create space and fill it with meaningful conversation and action.
I absolutely agree that as a pastor it is incumbent upon me to create space where meaningful interactions can happen. But I need your help. My question for you: what are the roles and responsibilities of the people in all this?
*I fear sounding like a long-irrelevant ’60′s hippie phrasing my understanding of God’s Way like that. But I can’t help it. Those three things – justice, peace, and love – best describe who I understand God to be. They best describe what I understand the life of faith to be about. They best describe the Jesus I love and strive to follow.
**A couple of years ago I attended a youth ministry conference put on by First Third Ministry and JoPa Productions. It was a terrific event: innovative in the technology used, in the content presentation, and in its participatory spirit. I haven’t been to any other First Third Events, but I respect the work they do. (Full disclosure: Tony Jones, who makes up the Jo part of that company, is a friend and my D.Min cohort professor.)