Whew… it’s past the middle of January and so it has been almost five months! What? Yep, five months since I said “yes” to our District Superintendent and became a ‘Lay Supply Pastor’ for West Springfield United Methodist Church (WSUMC). My wife asked me just before Christmas, “Well, what do you think? Are you enjoying it?” My reply, “I come home happy each day I am there.” What more can anyone ask?
So the specifics might be important. First, for me this is a voluntary, uncompensated position. It’s also technically a ‘quarter-time’ posting. That is supposed to mean I am involved with my church only 12 – 14 hours per week, on average. To try to make this work, and to keep my sanity and spiritual center, I lead Sunday service (i.e. preach, etc.) 3 out of every 5 Sundays, more or less. I will tell you my first, early discovery, it takes 5 to 8 hours of preparation for each time I lead a Sunday service. So, if I were to lead every Sunday, well that’s all I could do.
WSUMC, any church really, needs more than just Sunday service. Someone is in hospital and needs a pastoral visit, someone cannot come to church and would like to receive communion, are the books OK, is it time to review the other staff… and that’s just a sprinkling of activities that only keep the church in stasis. I am reading a wonderful book “Can You Just Get Them Through Until Christmas?” by Pastor Margie Briggs. ( find out more about her book here ) and when I read her inspiring words I wonder “How on earth can she do this as 1/4 time for each church?”
It does lead me to thinking about our Methodist organization and about startups. Yes, startups. You see before I came to ministry I had been in Information Technology (IT) and had my own company, had worked to turn around several companies, had worked inside several companies to turn around groups, and in every case there was a requirement not to reduce the level of effort but in many cases to apply a multiplier of effort, double, maybe ten times, to get the organization back on course. I was mostly successful or rather I was most successful when there was a good reason to invest in the organization and there was a clear goal.
Within our New England Conference there seems to be a retreat mentality, a level of defeat-in-place sometimes. Before coming to WSUMC I had heard about the troubles the church was having, how awful it was. When I got there, imagine my surprise when I found a burning passion for the church, a deep love of God, a caring community of faith. Yes, they are small but Christ built a church with just 12 people and no money.
Right now WSUMC and I are trying to find a mission, a goal if you well that is tangible, that people can see, feel, touch, and build towards. In reading Margie’s book I saw two tiny churches, churches with no money and only a few people set forth an ambitious goal for themselves and then go. Notice I did not say ‘grow’ but ‘go’ because ‘growth’ is not a goal.
We’ll see what happens next.