My latest reading has taken me into the world of ‘congregational transformation’ as the PC(USA) calls it, with Kevin Ford’s ‘Transforming Church.’ An interesting title, and an interesting read if you are in ‘the church biz’. (I know grammatically that period should be inside the apostrophe, but I simply disagree!)…but I digress…
I’ll be honest in stating that I waiver on the role of ‘church solutions’ with consultants, advisers, and programs. However, it certainly beats the pants off of simply ‘doing the same thing we always did’ year after year in the life of the congregation, until every member is over the age of 80, and the community doesn’t even realize you exist as a church. So when I went to a conference on ‘congregational transformation’ in Ft. Worth this fall and saw all of these consultants with powerpoint programs, DVDs, and books, I was a bit skeptical. Much to my surprise, however, the research that many of these groups do is pretty eye-opening. And if you, as the member of your church or a pastor, are able to adapt these bits of knowledge into your own context, then I think a lot of good things can happen in general.
‘Transforming Church’ talks about these themes of …transformation. Through the use of narrative (much like many psychology and business books), this book shares stories of how these issues of transformation take root in the daily life of congregations. And while it’s a bit longer than I think is necessary (cut down on some of the stories), I find it intriguing to apply my learnings from this text to my ministry context.
Some questions that I’m pondering today because of this book…
- What is the ‘code’ or the culture of my congregation? What makes this place unique? What are its celebrated stories?
- What is the mission of this congregation?
- How do my personal issues and baggage interact with my leadership style and capabilities? How do I react in the face of conflict?
- What does good conflict look like?
- How is the pastor called to compile and articulate a congregationally-led vision? What happens if it’s not the same as their own?
- How does the mission of the Church relate to Tequesta, Florida?
These are a few questions that have come from this book as I continue to discern my calling as a minister in Christ’s Church.
Ultimately, each congregation must be able to articulate the purpose for their existence as a church, and I think this is where most mainline Protestant congregations are having trouble these days. Most of these churches still maintain an identity based upon their most ‘fruitful’ years, which for the most part happened in the 50’s and 60’s. This reality simply does not exist today. The reality is that now many of the pastors who remember those days are retiring as well. So now we have dwindling congregations who yearn to go back to the ‘good old days’ while many new pastors (including myself) face these realities with a completely different set of values and vision for the Church…interesting times. While I understand that this is a gross over generalization of just one of the many challenges we face today, I think it has been helpful to read this book in light of such introspection.
In the end, we are ALL called to be the church, whether we agree with one another or not about the future steps of the Christian Church. More so, it’s the responsibility of the pastor to not let his or her BIG HEAD get in the way of what God has already done, is doing, and will do in the life of each and every congregation. There is so much more wisdom out there if we just put our egos aside and begin to listen for God’s voice. We need to hear from all sides. We need to collaborate. We need to discern a vision for each congregation together, even in the face of conflict. And if God is with us, then I have faith we’ll be alright.