Ministry in the Meantime and Mean Time

Ministry in the Meantime and Mean Time

Ministry happens in the meantime and in the mean time. The meantime is a season of sometimes bewildering change and troubling transitions. It’s an interval between a past we know well and a future which isn’t yet clear and between a familiar way of doing things and an emerging way of doing them. One indication of this interval is a leadership gap which exists in many churches: an older generation of experienced leaders is passing from the scene, and younger generations have not yet developed the skills for, or shouldered the responsibilities of, constructive congregational leadership. We live and serve in the tension between what has been and what will be, and this meantime calls for discernment, perseverance, and courage. Meantime also refers to the climate in which ministry happens these days: it’s a mean time. The tone of public debate is coarsening, and verbal violence is increasing. It’s common to reduce complex issues to bumper-sticker or tweet sized slogans aimed at the single goal of winning an argument, and it’s uncommon to engage in thoughtful listening and speaking with the purpose of mutual understanding. Concern for the common good is eroding. Political polarization and partisan wrangling are more intense than they have been since the late 1960s and early 1970s. These factors adversely affect ministry. Conversations about a church’s challenges and opportunities too-frequently reflect the stridency of public debate. Add to the corrosive tone of public debate other factors that make this a mean time: Decades of worship wars have splintered some churches into factions organized around differences in musical taste, matters of style, and differing opinions about...
Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Easter changes everything. Like no other part of the Christian faith, the story of Easter is at the heart of what makes our faith unique and life-changing. Death is overcome by life. Not even the grave is immune to the life-giving power of Jesus Christ. Those simple statements have profound implications. Across the centuries, this triumph of life over death has proven to be the spark that has inspired individual believers and the church. No obstacle has been too large, no challenge too intimidating. Men and women have found hope in the midst of oppression, loss, and excruciating pain. Faith communities have leaned into challenges that seemed overwhelming with conviction, grit and confidence in victory. Living on the right side of Easter makes all the difference in the world. There really are two sides of Easter, aren’t there? One is the side of Easter that the disciples experienced during the dark hours following the crucifixion. It is the side marked by discouragement, loss and despair. There is also the side of Easter those same men and women experienced when they discovered the tomb was empty and Jesus had been resurrected. This is life marked by confidence and hope. Why, then, do so many of us, and so many of our churches seemingly live on the wrong side of Easter? Think about the difference in a church that finds itself mired in a “pre-Easter” mindset versus a church that lives out of it’s “post-Easter” mindset. Here are four key contrasts between the two. A pre-Easter church believes only in what they can see. Thus, they work very hard and are...
A Pastor’s Prayer for Pastors

A Pastor’s Prayer for Pastors

Gracious and Loving God, Today I come to you as a pastor praying for pastors.  I pray for all men and women from every walk of faith who are called into this peculiar and rewarding vocation of encouraging and equipping others for their journey. First, I pray for pastors to be encouraged. Although this work brings much joy, this work can also be highly discouraging.  I pray for those pastors who are right now living through the dark night of the soul, some experiencing darkness because of the challenges of their congregation, others experiencing darkness because of emotional depression, and still others experiencing darkness because of physical or spiritual fatigue. I especially pray for those pastors who are discerning whether to go to a new place of service, and for those pastors who have confirmed the call to stay where they are to seize the opportunities and tackle the challenges.  I pray for the energy of pastors to be revitalized so that pastors can dream dreams and have visions, and do their work with the right spirit. I pray for pastors to be faithful.  I pray for pastors to live in faithful covenant to their families, both their spiritual family and their immediate family, and to always distinguish their covenant responsibilities between these two.  I pray for pastors to be faithful to our calling, always discerning and following your missional initiatives, and to be continually engaged in dialogue with you. I pray for pastors to be anointed with a fresh dose of courage. These are stressful times and it is no time for your shepherds to be sheepish.  You...
Healthy Churches Together Fall Conferences 2016

Healthy Churches Together Fall Conferences 2016

Upcoming Conferences in Partnership with Belmont University The Center for Healthy Churches and the Moench Center for Church Leadership in the College of Theology and Christian Ministry at Belmont University are excited to announce their upcoming conferences focusing on issues related to church health and healthy church leadership. Join us to participate in an intentional effort to strengthen pastors, church leaders, and churches while imagining and supporting healthy ministry strategies. 10:00 a.m.  Opening presentation in the Janet Ayers Academic Center (JAAC) 5003. 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. Focused conversation with pastors and church leaders. Complimentary lunch will be served . In the Inman Health Sciences (IHS) 405 (Building #6). For more information, contact Darrell Gwaltney, Dean of the College of Theology and Christian Ministry and Director of the Moench Center for Church Leadership at Belmont University. Upcoming Conferences “A Culture of Call: Creating a Congregational Ecology of Christian Vocation”   Dr. George Mason October 19 The Protestant notion of the priesthood of all believers must be renewed in each generation if the church is to be perennially vital. Some are called to do the work of the church and others to do church work, but all are called to serve according to the gifts and graces bestowed upon them by the Spirit. The normal church cycle of worship and education offers opportunity to give language to this work. We will look at the threefold strategy of Notice, Name and Nurture that fosters the healthiest environment in which people may hear, discern, explore and answer the call to ministry. George Mason has been senior pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas...
When Being Smart isn’t Enough

When Being Smart isn’t Enough

Work smarter.  Whenever we feel the pressure of too many responsibilities and not enough time, someone reminds us to work smarter.  Soon we get the impression that being smart is the key to effectiveness in most areas of life. We believe the smartest people always have first place in whatever they do. In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni makes a powerful case that intelligence is not enough when the task is leadership. Being smart helps, but he says that the additional quality which sets apart the best leaders is the ability to create healthy organizations. In fact, he makes the case that health begets intelligence – and trumps it every time.  Being healthy is more important than being smart. Lencioni defines a healthy organization a as one with minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and low turnover among good employees.  If we apply his assertions to the church, we can imagine faithful congregations with less dissension and greater clarity of mission, increased engagement of members, and back doors closed to revolving membership.  Which of us in ministry would not want those qualities demonstrated in the churches we lead? How can we create a healthy organization?  In The Advantage, Lencioni lays out a compelling argument for the four disciplines of leadership necessary for the task: build a cohesive leadership team, create clarity, overcommunicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.  As he outlines these responsibilities, he gives clear guidance on specific tasks needed to accomplish them.  For instance, in building a cohesive team, leaders should stress behavioral accountability over quantitative accountability. Simply stated: how team members act is...
Ministry in an Election Year

Ministry in an Election Year

Across more than 35 years as a pastor, some of the hardest times in which to find a healthy balance between a prophetic engagement with the culture and a pastoral sensitivity to congregational unity were presidential election years. Since I’m no longer serving a local congregation, I admit to experiencing relief—but also confess to feeling some guilt—that I don’t have the responsibility or opportunity to lead a congregation during this challenging season. Here are ways I tried to honor the prophetic-pastoral tension in my ministry at the sometimes treacherous intersection of the political and ecclesial realms. 1.  I aimed for what Richard John Neuhaus, in The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984), called “critical patriotism.” It’s a style of citizenship that makes it clear that Christians’ ultimate loyalty is to the Kingdom of God. To be a patriot means to love one’s country enough to hold it accountable to Jesus’s vision of God’s beloved community characterized by justice, mercy, and peace. Critical patriots know that no nation is perfect, not even our own. We also know that to recognize its imperfections does not have to blind us to what is good about the United States. It’s undeniable that, like every nation, the United States is, from time to time, guilty of greed, corruption, dishonesty, and violence. That’s why I resonate to the stanza in “America the Beautiful” which includes a prayer for national reformation: “America!  America! God mend thine every flaw Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.” It’s also true that, however, that at its best, the United States strives, as Dr. King...