Thursday, June 21, 2018

3 Misconceptions About a Pastoral Vacancy

A church in a pastoral transition can be an exciting community with a sense of anticipation about how God will work to bring about a fruitful and blessed future, or it can be a place of foreboding where people worry about what has been lost.   Some churches may find themselves stuck in the middle neither going forward or back.  To keep your congregation healthy it is best to lay some myths about churches in pastoral transition aside.   Here are three common ones I have seen over the years.

1. We need to wait for our new pastor to do ministry.

The apostle Peter tells us.   But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 NRSV) Each person in your congregation is called to his or her own discipleship path, each is given unique gifts by the Holy Spirit to use to help others and give glory to God.   That does not change in a transition of leadership.   Indeed, this can be a time when you can discover gifts you never knew you had.  We can see this during our worship each Sunday.  The word liturgy means service of the people, not just the pastor.   Think if you had a hymn and only the pastor sung it.   It would not be as beautiful as if the whole church sang it together.   Education, Community Service, Evangelism and Stewardship work the same way.  The work of the church belongs to all.  The church that keeps up momentum becomes a more attractive church to potential candidates to be your pastor.

2. We can't do anything new until we get our new pastor.

This is patently false.   A congregation with its ear to the ground can start new initiatives at any time.   For example, if you have previously relied on your pastor to follow up with visitors, the pastoral vacancy is an opportunity to become a more welcoming and hospitable church by having lay volunteers set up a process to welcome newcomers to your community.  In addition if your church does not have a prayer group, a pastoral vacancy is great time to start one.   A gathering of 5-6 people to pray for God to open the door for the right leader is a great step for any congregation in transition.  Committing  to prayer will help the congregation ask the right questions and be willing to look at new possibilities that God may provide for the best possible future.

3. No one will join until we get a new pastor. 

People join churches for many reasons, not just the pastor.    People usually stay in churches because of the connections they make within the congregation.  People that do not have two or three strong connections in the church usually drift away over time.   A church in transition can attract new people to their community if they are hospitable and welcoming.   If there is someone you don't recognize, just ask for his or her name and strike up a conversation.   Your church may have the best location,  size, worship style, Sunday school, youth group, or Bible study for a potential member.  So this is a great time to invite a friend to church, they will meet the wonderful people of your congregation.  A church that prepares to grow will more likely grow than a church that just sits back and does the same old thing.

A congregation needs to prepare for its new pastor.

While it is critical for congregations to look at their finances, the state of their parsonage, and paint the pastor's office to get ready for a new pastor, the most important way to prepare for a pastor is to tend to ministry.  The more things that the congregation can learn to handle during the vacancy will help free up space and time for the new pastor to use his or her gifts for the benefit of the church when he or she arrives.  There is one final myth I would like to bust, which is: a new pastor will grow our church. Churches grow when pastor and people work together to prepare an environment where growth can happen. There is no reason for the people of a congregation in transition to wait to do their part.  The funny thing is s church preparing for the future is more likely to see blessings of the present.   A pastoral transition can be a time of fun and excitement as the people pull together for the sake of the Gospel. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Bible Challenge

I challenge you to read the Bible in 2018. Not parts of the Bible, the whole thing. “We must learn to know the Scriptures once again… as our fathers knew them. We must not grudge the time and work it takes. We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

To be a Christian is to be a person of the Word of God. We were called into a relationship with God through the Word. As we say in the Lutheran Church, it is the source and norm of our faith. It is the place we go to find out about how we should deal with the central issues of life. Contemporary culture may not hold the Bible in high esteem, but that is to its detriment; it need not be ours. We have the gifts of God given to us through the Word, we must not throw them away, or relegate them to dust covered bookshelves in the spare bedrooms of our lives. Our life and our salvation is the most precious gift we have, therefore the Word should have pride of place.

Yes, the Whole Enchilada!

While every person of faith has parts of the Bible they like better than others, it is important to read the whole story so that we may know the strengths and weaknesses of our faith. We can at times place ourselves in a spiritual feedback loop, which constantly confirms long held beliefs without question or introspection. This happens often with devotionals that only use individual verses, or churches that only follow a lectionary with narrow range of the wider body of Scripture. Focusing on pieces of Scripture to the exclusion of the whole story of salvation can stunt the growth of a faith life or leave one ill equipped when life brings new challenges. Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and it is intended to be used as such (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

Christians are People of the Book

To be a Christian is to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We cannot do that without the reading of Scripture. “Consecutive reading of biblical books forces everyone… to put (oneself)… where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of (people).” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together) In other words, God’s story becomes our story, and yes vice versa our lives become part of God’s story too. Regular Bible reading changes who we are and that can be a blessing to others and even the entire world.

As one who reads history often I can tell you that so many of the blessings that we have today were inspired by those who steeped their entire lives in the biblical story. From things such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, to the freedom of individual conscience, the story of God’s salvation inspired those who fought for these things. “The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451) I challenge you to be a Bible person (not a thumper) one who lets God’s story breathe through their life. As you will read in the Gospels, Jesus lived in exactly this way; just look at how many times he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures.

How to Start

If you have not read the Bible regularly before, I encourage you to begin by reading 1-2 chapters continuously of the New Testament daily beginning with Mathew’s Gospel and ending with Revelation. By doing this, you will complete the New Testament in well under a year. As Christians, we read the rest of the Bible through the eyes of Christ, so this is the best place to start.

If you have some experience with the Bible, perhaps a chapter of the Old Testament read continuously, with a Psalm, and when you finished them, a chapter from Proverbs, followed by a chapter of the New Testament. You will not finish the Bible in a year, but will have read the majority of it.

To complete the Bible in a year you can google a plan, there are many available, or you might read 5-6 chapters of Scripture a day. It is important not to get bogged down when you get to those sections of Scripture that can seem monotonous, such as descriptions of the temple furnishings, genealogies, or obscure parts of the Torah. It is important therefore to have a mix of Old Testament and New Testament readings. It is also OK to skim these parts, as long as you aware of what you are leaving out. The goal is the familiarity with the big story of the Bible. I hope that this can be blessing for you in 2018 and you too can let the story of God breathe through your life.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht