This week, a ground hog will be pulled out of his hole and see, or not see, his shadow. People from as far south as Atlanta, will want to know if Phil predicts an early spring or six more weeks of winter. The ground hog’s statistics were in the paper today and they were dismal. Over the last ten years, you could spit on a rock and toss it in the air and have a better predictor of the upcoming weather. Fortunately, ground hogs are only good eating when they are young, so there isn’t much interest in shooting old Punxsutawney Phil. I have come to believe that most pastors are equally lousy at predicting the particular missional calling of the church they serve.
God may be calling St. Paul’s Church to be in serious mission and lead transformation in a particular area of need in the community. The new pastor, however, has decided that the church needs to focus on bringing in new people and improving its metrics (statistics). Another pastor may have a heart for mission, but be serving a dying congregation that needs to transition gracefully into closure. This pastor can’t grasp the vision of how his church could give its building and resources as a legacy gift for mission under his leadership. Another church has both the enthusiasm and flexibility to bridge over the generations and minister to the postmodern world, but the pastor wants to ‘stay the course’ and continue doing what worked in the past. Fortunately pastors, like ground hogs, aren’t good eating when they get old and tough.
The lessons to be learned are:
- Pastors and laity need to learn together how to do spiritual discernment. Prayer will reveal, through healthy group process, the primary mission of your congregation. The pastor’s role is to support the shared vision, not to create it. Clergy need to learn how to listen and how to teach listening skills (Reality Check 101 deals with this process).
- In the United Methodist Church (this is also true of other denominations) the clergy itinerate, which means they go from location to location telling people what all churches in general are called to do. The laity, on the other hand, locate. They are called to live in the community and discern what is needed in this particular place. God gives half of the local church’s mission and vision to each party and expects us to put the pieces together.
- Don’t be afraid to let the facts shoot down your cherished myths. I did the math on Ground Hog’s Day and found that it didn’t connect with reality. If we compare what a church says its doing with what it is doing, we may realize that our current mission statement is a myth. Fixing this involves going back into small groups and prayerfully seeking God’s will for this particular church.