Tod Bolsinger writes about the moment when Lewis & Clark, on their famous expedition in the first years of the 1800’s, find themselves literally “off the map” and figuring out where to go from here. Bolsinger compares it to the situation of the church today, and the challenge of doing ministry together in uncharted territory.
Given the season, I also can’t help but think about the magi in the Gospel of Matthew – renowned for their wisdom, but relying on the star of God’s guidance to bring them to the place where they encounter the true King of Kings. It reminds me that while we may be in uncharted territory – like the magi, like Abraham, like the people of Israel in the desert, like Paul in Asia Minor – God is there to guide if we are willing to follow.
Part of that uncharted territory for all of us in 2018 is the transition of the pastor’s position to 80% of full time, subject to a review after 6 months to see what is feasible at that point. I worked closely with our Finance Team, Diaconate and the Administrative Team as we looked at the budget realities and the broader ministry concerns we had, and am convinced that this was the most prudent thing to do at the time.
One of the challenging aspects of making this decision at our Annual Meeting is that there was so much to process in this, that it is hard, perhaps impossible in the timeframe, to really do justice to everyone’s questions, thoughts, and concerns. There have been generous offers of support made, and heartfelt ideas forwarded about how we might make things work. While this is ultimately about discerning how we can best allocate resources to fulfill God’s mission, I feel very supported and encouraged by the members of the church who are concerned about how this impacts Gabrielle and I as well as all of us. I realize that there are lots of conversations that still need to happen, questions and ideas that need to be raised, and communication that we still need to improve on together. After the meeting, I was grateful when someone came to me with concerns and questions that we hadn’t adequately spoken to during the meeting. It gave me better insight into things I missed, things we could have done better at explaining and the opportunity to try and address those questions in a more helpful way. So please, please, talk to one of the appropriate church leaders or me, if you have questions, concerns, or feedback that you would like to offer.
We are in this together, and we need to discern God’s guidance in the mission together. God’s mission isn’t either “outside” or “inside” the church walls as much as it is about incorporating the priorities of discipleship, community, and making God’s love tangible in ever widening circles, in whatever we do.
Part of why I think it is important we make this adjustment now, and not in the future, is that it encourages us, if we are willing, to wrestle with key questions:
While part of our challenge is to increase our participation and to invite people to step into leadership roles, as well as in our financial support, this isn’t about making people feel guilty about what we can’t do, as much as recognizing that given limited resources of time, people and money, how are we focusing what we do in the most effective ways as a church? Whether part time, or whether we can move back to full time mid-year, what are the most important tasks of a pastor to help the church as a whole own and carry out its mission?
These are all challenges, and I will be the first to admit that humanly speaking, it scares me too. But I see God at work in this congregation. I see it in our small groups and individuals, a desire to know not just more about God, but to know God more deeply. I see it in the way we take care of each other, particularly with a heart for people in our community who are the most vulnerable. I love our church’s heart for those struggling with mental illness, even though we know that’s not always an easy road to walk along with someone. I love the ways that we connect our faith back out into everyday life, carrying it into our workplaces, being generous and compassionate in ways that will never bring credit or attention in the eyes of the world, but which our Father in heaven notices. I love the way we strive to keep the main thing the main thing, and give each other grace in the matters that aren’t essential. I love how we are continuing to learn from our brothers and sisters in recovery about the need to be honest with God and others about our brokenness, and how freedom follows from allowing His grace in. Time and again, I’ve seen our church be part of things that bring a taste of the Kingdom to Fond du Lac. This may never bring financial security or big membership rolls – but if we focus on what God calls us into, someday by grace we will see a harvest of far more value.
We have a great church. It is a vision of community that I am privileged to be a part of. I don’t know what 2018 will bring, some of it will be challenging, some of it will be a blessing. But I do know that God is faithful, that God is at work among us, and that whatever it holds, we don’t walk into this new year alone.
Thank you for being part of this journey together,
PS: I’m serious about the contacting us thing – if you have any ideas, questions, concerns, or feedback, let me know. Let one of our deacons or other leaders know. Whether at the church or over a cup of coffee – let’s talk.