Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Clergy Retreat

Today I am writing from an annual clergy retreat.  Seventeen friends from seminary and our 13 children from all over the country have converged in Nags Head, North Carolina for the week.  All of us have been in ministry for roughly 8-10 years.  We are Educators, Pastors, Associate Pastors, Campus Ministers, and Doctoral Candidates.  Our ages range from 30's to 50's, and we are equally balanced between men and women.  Our ethnic representation is about the same as the denomination (99% White, 1% Other).  

Tonight's topic of discussion centers around whether or not a pastor should know what congregants give to the budget.  The topic initiated by one of our members reflecting on the comment of an older minister from his presbytery offered in a Pastor's lunch.  His primary reason was to determine the commitment of the membership.  The response has been varied and slightly heated.  Primarily the rebuttal is that it leaves us at risk of knowing information that creates personal bias.  

The return question is focused around the need to talk openly about money, the public confession of sin, and the way such conversations allow or empower the Pastor to lead the congregation.  Responses continue to be connected to affirm the idea that it could make us beholden to members in the long run.  Further, that the knowledge of individual giving creates a power dynamic that is a challenge to humility.

Personally, I do not want to know.  I agree that such knowledge does correlate to power, and our greatest asset as Pastors is the ability to lead as Jesus did.  Jesus gave up power at every turn, even unto death- and that on a cross!  Now, that's the scary part.  What is it that I need to do to give up power in order for God to be glorified?  How can I allow myself to be put so at risk that I might be considered cursed so that God might be glorified?  And further, how can I do this and still be a good father and husband who provides for his family? These are core questions for me in my continued journey of faith.  

As an Associate Pastor who supports Mission and Christian Education, I know that I am called to offer a certain amount of guidance.  Yet I work with incredibly talented and spiritually gifted leaders.  That's central to our polity and theology, the idea that God calls us into corporate fellowship with shared leadership responsibilities.  And so we dance.  We meet and consider God's presence in our midst.  We argue about what we need to be doing, how, and why.  We reflect on what God has done in our midst and how we might be a part of what God is yet to do.

One of the resources I am reviewing this week is "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations".  It's a United Methodist resource, and it was brought in by one of our elders.  An ecumenical approach brought in by an elected leader, that's exciting!  I'm looking forward to it because it is a team oriented approach to ministry that answers the conflict inherent in power dynamics that arise in the church.  As I have been reading it, fundamentally the approach is examining the practices that the church seems to be using as an auto-pilot and pushing them to the point of risk taking "for the love of God."  Hospitality, as an example, is not simply being friendly.  It is a perspective that orients the quality, content, and intention of our relationships.  It focuses our priority equally on the quality of our fellowship and the ones with who we need to extend it to.  Notice the difference between "extend it to" and something like "those we need to bring in". 

Radical Hospitality, as it is called in this resource, is focused externally.  We must also have something to extend, but to attend to the interior without the exterior is an incomplete proclamation of Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I'll talk more about Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity in my next few posts.  For now I will drink from the well of common unity.  My cup runneth over!
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