Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Shepastor: "Confessions of a Small Church Pastor: Re-Imagining Ministry..."
2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. Ezekiel 37: 1-3, KJV
“Bright eyed and bushy tailed…,” ready, willing and able, called, credentialed, appointed, anointed, equipped! This is how I entered “the gates” of my first pastoral ministry assignment… full of vision, hopes, energy and dreams. But then, reality set in. Initial excitement, enthusiasm and growth quickly turned into frustration, disappointment, deterioration and yes, depression. Dare I be honest? Pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart!
Many a day, I found myself feeling like Ezekiel, walking back and forth in the midst of a “valley of very dry bones.” Like Ezekiel, I could almost hear the Lord asking me, “Chris, can these bones live?” And like Ezekiel, I have frequently responded, “Lord, thou knowest,” (because I sure don’t!!!!) I can honestly say, however, that through all of the trials and pain, serving in the midst of dryness, God always assured my heart that I was in fact called to this place, that God would remain with me, and that God would eventually breathe life into my situation.
I would love to say that suddenly, 5,000 members joined the church, someone left us a major donation, ministries are thriving and we are now building a stunning new facility…NOT!!! That has not happened. In fact, after 10 years of ministry, it’s as if we are literally starting all over again with a few shy of the numbers we had when I first started…all new people except one elder. God has pulled me into a place where I have had to “re-imagine” ministry.
All of my life I grew and served in churches that were multigenerational. I watched as people faithfully volunteered, attended, worship, prayer meeting, Bible study, Sunday School, youth groups, usher board meetings, had “Men’s Day and Women’s Day,” missionary circles, single’s ministries etc. And, to God be the glory, some churches are still large enough to successfully carry on these services and more. Smaller churches, however, frequently lack the human and or financial resources and the will to do many or most of these things. Also, many in today’s society view “ministry” differently. Many would rather “live-stream” services at home and then go volunteer at the local homeless shelter once a month, seeing that as their “humanitarian deed” for the world.
Coming to terms with these differences have been life altering for me and my family. I found myself trying for years to “grow” and mold our small church into the aforementioned paradigm. It has not worked. As I sunk deeper and deeper into discouragement, I kept receiving the message, “Be still and know that I am God.” My prayer became, “Lord, show me what ‘being still’ looks like in this season/phase of ministry.” Something happened…out of the many individuals who have been invited, visited once or twice and that was it, the Lord sent one new individual who has continued to come. Someone filled with enthusiasm, giftedness and commitment to the work of the ministry.
This gentleman has not “joined” the church, but continues to come faithfully, support financially and has committed to help lead a major initiative to mentor and teach young men in our community. I have been praying for this “new life,” for this ministry, literally for years. I can see green buds beginning to push their way through the dry rocky soil that has been our existence now for some time. My perspective, my view, my “imagining” ministry through this congregation now reflects a more collaborative effort with outside individuals, agencies and networks to carry on the work of the Kingdom.
Several new initiatives are being birthed during this “still season.” Opportunities are increasing for us to connect with various community entities to support, serve and address critical needs in our area. New life does not currently look like I thought it would. But God knows best how to resurrect dry bones.
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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,