Top 5 things I’ve learned from 6 months of being nobody’s pastor

About six months ago, I left the congregation I had been serving to begin service to a regional level of my denomination. This is the first time in almost 10 years that I’ve not actively served a local congregation (in some capacity) on a regular basis, and a few things have brought themselves to my attention.

I’m a firm believer in the Pareto Principle. Most of us know it as the “80-20 Rule”, and it states that 80% of the output is the result of 20% of input. I look at everything this way, constantly trying to pare down the things I’m doing to what is actually effective and beneficial.

Naturally, attending other churches with the kind of insider knowledge I have means that (for a while) I’m looking at what can be improved upon and what is working well. For six months I have been given a perspective on congregational life that few pastors get. And so, in hopes that it will be helpful, here are the Top 5 things I’ve learned about church in the last six months:

  1. Preaching matters. A lot. I’m not saying you’ve got to be Anna Carter Florence or anything, but if you half ass the sermon, shame on you. This is your number one job.
  2. If the folks you serve don’t know how to be hospitable, it’s over. And the bigger you are, the harder it is. Think about it like the way you want a server at a restaurant to behave: attentive to what you need and willing to get it, but not too chatty that they smother you. It’s a fine line and it’s hard to find, but that’s no excuse.
  3. Casual or informal worship is fine. Unintentional and watered down is not. Plus, anything that smacks of a performance? Boo.
  4. All things to all people just doesn’t work. There are a gazillion churches out there. Not everyone is gonna love the kind of stuff yours offers and that’s okay. Do what you do, do it well, and make it easy for folks to get involved. This is particularly applicable to Christian Education programs. Multiple offerings is fine, but come on – Some of us are ridiculous.
  5. Every congregation needs a mission project to rally around. Of course, given my belief in open source methodology, congregations should have a culture of experimentation and permission, but a lot of people are not “starters” and need something to latch onto.

These, in my opinion, are the 20%. They are not earth shattering, but in this changing landscape of whatever church is and is becoming I have to admit that I was surprised by a couple of these.

Getting a handle on the themes of the book

I love the process of writing.  I was joking with my friend Carol the other day about the comparisons that people throw around regarding writing a book and child-birth.  As she says “I’ve done both.  They are nothing alike.”

I think I’ll trust her.

And yet, I’ll still use the metaphor.  🙂

Right now, this book is “gestating” in my head and heart.  It’s being formed into the basics of what it is.  Pretty soon, I’m just gonna have to PUSH! and birth this beautiful mess, but right now the limbs and organs are still forming.

One thing that is becoming increasingly clear to me is that there are “churchy” words and ideas commensurate with the themes Surowiecki gives in Wisdom of Crowds (no surprise there, really), but I was not clear on what they were til today.  Now that I’ve identified them, I’m starting to really settle down.

Specifically, here’s what I’m thinking:

Promoting, defending and ensuring diversity (chapter 4) = hospitality

Doing everything possible to ensure that anyone can be a part of the process of mission and ministry is no different than the age-old posture of making sure that “there’s enough room at the table.”  right?

Promoting, defending and ensuring independent thought (chapter 5) = discernment

Facilitating a group in such a way that everyone can contribute and so that no one is shut out or dominates seems to sound a lot like group trying to attend to the will of God in Christ to me.  You?

Promoting, defending and ensuring decentralization (chapter 6) = empowering call/vocation

Getting out of people’s way and allowing them to use the gifts, skills, and passions that God has given them feels like what I see when I watch John the Baptist call out “Behold, the Lamb of God!” and when I read of Paul starting communities and then setting them free to be the church as they need to be in their own places.

So…hospitality, discernment, empowering people in their call… Know of any examples of those?