The Time It Takes

Church Clock
It takes a lot of time to be a good parent.  My brother used to take a different one of his four kids out for alone-time-with-dad every Saturday morning when they were little.  It was about donuts and focusing on that one child’s precious life.

Kids need our total focus on a regular basis and I don’t know how people do it who have huge families.

It takes time to develop trusting relationships, to know what’s going on, to notice a child’s hidden talents, to uncover hurts, to answer questions.  You can go to every soccer game and every PTA meeting and. still, never know your child.  Talking and listening are crucial.

Professional Ministry is like this too.   It’s not enough just to be there.  We need to talk.  We need to listen.

I spend my days hearing comments like these:

  • This is my church.  I’ve been a member for __ years and I’m not going to let ____ run me out.
  • We need more young families in our church.
  • Children are the future of our church.
  • The pastor doesn’t visit people in the hospital.  He expects the deacons to do it.
  • Do you have something like a baseball stat report we could use to evaluate our pastor?
  • We are hoping to get someone (to be our pastor) without spending a lot of money.  Do we really have to pay the minimum?
  • I don’t get a sabbatical in the business world.  Why should our pastor get a sabbatical?

As good church people share these comments with me,  I realize that this is going to take a lot of time.

It takes an enormous amount of time to listen to an individual church’s story (i.e. the story that explains why they bully each other, the story that sheds light on the fact that they are dying, the story that clarifies why the Christian Educator doesn’t get along with the Treasurer.)   I,  frankly, love hearing these stories, but there isn’t enough time in the day.

It takes an enormous amount of time to shift a congregation’s culture from a long-dead model of ministry that hasn’t worked for a generation to a fresh model of ministry for a new century, much less a new year.  (e.g. Children are not the future of the church; their parents are.  The pastor’s job is to equip others to do pastoral care, not to do it all herself.  It’s not the pastor’s job to ‘bring in new members’ or bolster attendance.)  At least those things are not true if you want to be a church for these times.

It takes an enormous amount of time to try new things and give ourselves permission to fail.  There is no cookie cutter way to do church in 2013.  Everything depends on context (who’s in our neighborhood?), capacity (what resources do we have?) and – of course – the Holy Spirit.  Maybe God wants to do something completely different that we aren’t willing to do in our churches, and so God lets a congregation die so that a new community can be resurrected.

All this ministry takes time.  On a given day, I am privileged to spend quality time with an average of three churches.  I realize that each of those congregations needs lots of time and attention.  Their pastors are busy with the everyday responsibilities of congregational life.  Their officers have jobs and families, along with their own volunteer ministry.

There are about 100 congregations in our Presbytery and we can’t possibly spend the time each congregation probably needs.  But because we are now living in the 21st Century and most churches have no idea how to be a 21st Century Church, we have a lot to do.  It’s going to take time.

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