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Archive for February, 2017

Building Churches

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ . . . (1 Corinthians 3:11 NRSV)

In our church, we sing the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.”  This scripture passage from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth may be the basis on which that hymn was written, and it’s a good reminder to all of us in the church that we need to put Jesus Christ first in the work, mission, and ministry that we do.

I’ve heard over and over in my lifetime that we are supposed to live in the world but not of it.  So, as a pastor, I wrestle with how to help people find the tools to do such a thing.  I mean, let’s face it, the “world” informs us every day – every hour – every minute.  Rarely do we see people who are able to separate themselves from “the world.”

Paul saw this happening in the Corinthian church.  The people were fighting over nearly everything from who had the best gifts to where their allegiance belonged for their leaders.  This was a badly divided church!

I know of churches who have been divided over what color to paint the walls, which color and brand of carpeting to choose, how many chairs they needed to buy, and any number of technical things that bogged them down and distracted them.  Some churches had such vehement arguments over these issues that the church split, and one group started their own congregation down the street.

For me, it is such a sad statement that we get so carried away with things that are important, but not vital to our mission and ministry.  Did anyone stop to consult Jesus in the midst of all this?  What would he say?  I suspect (and I hardly dare speak for him, so I’m only speculating) that he would say it isn’t important.  Maybe he would even go so far as to clear out the sanctuary and tell people that they had tried to turn God’s house into a showcase for Good Housekeeping magazine or something.

Where are our priorities as congregations?  How do we live in the world but not of it?  Paul tells us in the verse above and in this section from 1 Corinthians 3 that we are to begin with Christ as the foundation and build on that with good quality materials that consist of prayer, worship, Bible study, fellowship, etc.  It doesn’t even matter how good or bad their spiritual leader was because they were just doing what God called them to do.

When a church is solidly build on Christ as the foundation, it will be strong and work together to make mission and ministry happen.  It behooves all of us in churches, to take a hard look at what motivates the work we do and who it is we consult when we are making decisions.  Is it Jesus Christ first, and then each other?

How does your church make decisions?

How does your church resolve conflicts?

Who is the head of your church?

 

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Who’s in Charge?

I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”  1 Corinthians 3:6 (NRSV)

The Corinthian church was bickering and fighting.  Apparently, they were divided over a number of issues, including who was their true leader.  This was a church that Paul had started (let’s face it – he had a lot of “new church starts”), and when he left Apollos took over as their spiritual leader.

Does this sound familiar?  In my previous parish, one of the long-time United Methodists who had been in that church for many years learned that I was being appointed to a new charge (with two churches).  Her comment was that whoever followed me would have a hard time because I had been a popular pastor.

Wow!  That’s heady stuff!  I had never been popular in my life, and all of a sudden, I learn that I was!  It was tempting to be proud of that, but then I realized and remember this passage above.  It isn’t about me.  It isn’t about the pastor before me.  It isn’t about the pastor who follows me.  It IS about God.

I sometimes wonder if pastors realize how they transition for the person who follows them.  In one church, the pastoral position was supposed to be quarter time, but the pastor (even though the person was paid for quarter time) was there full time.  I followed that pastor and tried to be half time, but there were a number of disgruntled people who thought I was favoring the other church.  In essence, I was working hard to keep that church moving forward.

However, I was never there enough according to some of the folks.  Fortunately, we eventually straightened out the expectations even though I continue to try to work full time in both churches.  That could be a problem for my successor.  I hope not.

Now that I am near retirement, my sermons will be talking about change, focusing on how God is in charge (I’ve been doing that all along, but now it will be a little more noticeable), and helping them to be open to new leadership.  There are no guarantees, of course.

When I left my previous church, it turned out poorly, and so much of the work we did together fell apart.  However, some of it endured since they are still in ministry, so that is something.

There are a number of books I have read about how to leave a parish and prepare the congregation for the transition.  They are guiding me along with a lot of prayer and meditation, as well as the Staff Parish Relations Committee.

Ultimately, it’s out of my hands.  As pastors, we all plant and water, but it is God who gives the growth.  We do our part and trust God to do the rest.

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