What the UMC wants me to do
This is not a revelation or realization for most of my long-suffering readers, but it was for me.
As a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I am not in the disciple-making business. I am in the congregation-building business.
The theory under which we are moving is that if clergy help build up vital congregations, then disciples will be made. Lots of folks dispute this theory. Some well-known folks in the church world go so far as to say this theory has it backwards. If you build disciples, you get church, the saying goes. If you build church, you do not necessarily get disciples.
Whether that is true or not, the denomination has placed its bet on the proposition that vital churches produce disciples. Therefore, the role of clergy is to create/engineer/build/nurture vital congregations.
Again, this is not a revelation to most people who pay attention to the world. I’m kind of a bookish introvert, though, and things take a while to penetrate sometimes.
What this means in the (very) small church setting is quite a puzzle to me. Let me illustrate. I was about to write a sentence in which I use the phrase “the church I serve.” But under the Vital Congregations and Call to Action model, I do not serve the church to which I am appointed. I lead it. All the talk about “servant leadership” hides the basic truth here. To be a servant of the congregation is a much different approach to pastoral ministry than being the leader of the congregation.
The United Methodist Church wants me to be a leader. My District Superintendent even has me reading a bookthat makes that very point:
The church isn’t going anywhere if the pastor is not willing to lead. We were not ordained to follow. That was not the point. Pastors are ordained [except I was not] and sent to lead a congregation. You were not ordained and sent so that you can follow that congregation wherever it wants to go.
Again, not news to you. A giant wrench in the pastoral paradigm for me, to be honest. Not that I thought I was sent to a congregation to follow it. But I do need to sort out what it means to be a leader and a pastor. The images that come to my mind when I speak the words “leader” and “pastor” do not always overlap. Indeed, in some ways they conflict.
Clearly, from the denomination’s point of view I have some relearning to do.
My task as pastor, if I understand the denomination properly, is to lead the congregation to become a vital congregation. My ministry should focus on building a congregation even if this in some ways takes focus away from individuals. The group, the community is the focus. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This will lead to the creation of disciples who transform the world, thus fulfilling the mission of the church. Thus sayeth the denomination.