Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cooperative Parish

I wanted to share with you about a new opportunity we have been asked to be a part of. The pastors of Wabash 1st UMC, Richvalley UMC, Lincolnville UMC, and myself have been discussing creating a Cooperative Parish. This model has not been tried. It would deal with some issues the United Methodist Church is facing both at the Conference level and the local level. 

1.      Conference level: In 2015, 100 elders will be retiring, and only 18 are being ordained.
2.      Local Church level: The local parish will be the one losing its pastor. Not only that, but no one pastor excels with all things pastors are to do. 

Large churches get around these issues by planting compass sights. They hire multiple pastors who are specialized in ministry so they get the best each person has to offer. They use technology to multiply preaching and other ministries. 

Our small churches have been looking into sharing leadership and other resources the way large churches do with compass ministries. The big difference is that all our churches would be sharing these resources as equals, not as off-shoots of a mother church. 

I want to invite you to start imagining what this would look like for our church. How could we share resources? How would it look if we shared preaching, whether through podcast or by rotating live preachers? What would it look like if we combined small groups to maximize on location and time for people? What if we shared our gifts not only at the local level, but with all the churches? We could have experts of all different fields building the kingdom with their gifts in multiple communities.
So where would we start to form a Cooperative Parish Meeting?

First, we must ask ourselves, “Are we willing? Would we be willing to share a pastor and expertise with other churches in exchange for their shared resources?

If the answer is yes, then we can talk about areas of ministry we could share those resources in:
1.      Youth Ministry. Coming in February, we will be inviting parents and youth to form one youth group made of members of all 4 churches.
2.      VBS: We could share curriculum and volunteers for 4 programs in 4 locations this summer. (Note: We could still partner with La Fontaine Christian Church, if they are willing to use the same curriculum.)
3.      Preaching: What would we be okay with in shared preaching? Podcast or live preacher; same live person for a sermon series and then we could change or is it okay to have a different person each week? Or would we want a primary preacher with other pastors taking a few weeks?
4.      Teaching/small groups: Would you be willing to go to a small group with people from different congregations?
a.      What would you be interested in studying?
b.      When and where would that small group meet?

I invite you to start the conversation of what this would look like for our congregation. Share them with me and others on my blog, and see others’ ideas as well. I also want to invite you to start talking to friends and family in these other congregations as we brainstorm. Most importantly, pray with me as we begin exploring how God may be moving our church forward in cooperation. 

Join us in conversation on our group page "Wabash County Cooperative Parish" on Facebook here:

Relationship: Giftedness vs Values

Many of us think about ministry as the job we hold in church or the things we do for others. At its core, though, ministry is really about the relationships we build and strengthen, not about activity itself. Have you ever thought of ministry not as what you do for others or God, but about the relationships you have with others and God? Do you see the shift? The reason I start here is because this post is all about ministry…and by that I mean the relationships we initiate and care about. This is a post, really about the convergence of multiple events:

1.      We had our Church Birthday Party this last Sunday. We shared a meal in which you have to sit at a table of people with birthdays in the same season as you. In doing this, we split up from our usual groupings and share a meal with people we don’t usually sit with.
2.      Lydia and I went to a baby shower this Saturday in which she bonded with an 18 month old.
3.      A conversation I had with a person who is in a unique position to reach out to someone in ways no one else in the congregation can. 

From these three events, I would like to talk about how ministry is really the relationships we build.
I’m going to start with my kids. I have two young kids, who are not giant fans of being pushed to talk to adults they don’t know…which they have to do a lot as pastor’s kids. There are always adults trying to make small talk with them. It’s interesting that, being surrounded by people of different ages, both have a certain age that they naturally reach out to. My daughter is great with babies and toddlers. She has this way of not being too pushy to scare them off, and being flexible enough to play with them. My son is gifted with teenage girls. He knows how to work is charms to get their full attention, and he has the perfect balance of shyness to bring them in and yet keep their attention. 

I can’t help but wonder if all of us have a natural bend towards a group outside of our own demographic? This is a real question…I don’t have the answer. I do know lots of people who claim to be pulled to certain ends of the spectrum of age. 

What often interests me as a pastor is that sometimes we get locked into ONLY connecting with that age group. I have often heard people say, “I just don’t feel called to children’s ministry…that’s just not my thing.” But for me, there comes a point that whether you are good with that age or not, if you value the person, it doesn’t matter if you are gifted. If you value children and youth, whether you are called are not, you are going to communicate their value to them by giving your attention to them. Sometimes our values decide our actions before our gifts. 

I saw some of that happening on Sunday with my son. No one at our table do the kind of ministries that those gifted with his age group lean towards like Sunday School or Jr. Church or even Nursery care. But they all valued Zeke enough to include him in conversation and build a relationship with him across the table. And feed him way too much candy. 

So all that to say to ask these questions:
1.      Outside of your own age group, who are you gifted in building relationships with?
2.      Who do you value so much that it doesn’t matter their age?
3.      How do you reach out to that group?

I got a fortune cookie this week that said, “There is no one so rich that they don’t need help or so poor they cannot help.” I think that is true not just about our bank accounts, but for our relationships too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

6 Things That Suck When You're Poor

This is not something I enjoy talking about, but it’s something I can’t get out of my head. This week, I picked up a book by Mike Slaughter titled “Christmas is not your birthday.” I didn’t get very far before being so upset, I had to put it down. I sat through a board meeting of our church where our food pantry was mentioned. Around the table you could hear comments like, “I can’t imagine not having anything to eat,” to “they have money for polar pops, but not groceries.” The reason these things bother me is that I don’t fit neatly into the middle class, and hearing the middle class talk about money and the things it buys is hard.

The reason it is so hard, is because since 2007, our family has received federal and state aid (welfare) in some form. I was the first to receive that aid in the form of prenatal care. When my daughter was born, she went on Medicaid immediately. Then our family received WIC checks. Along with those aid programs, we have received aid from well-meaning richer people. While in the last few months, we have finally made it off government programs (Yeah!), we still are currently receiving aid in the form of an income-based scholarship for our youngest to go to preschool. And it has been hard.  Here are some things that have made it challenging.

Some reasons why being poor sucks:
1.      People automatically think being well-educated equals being well-off. In every job I have held as an adult, I have been surrounded by people who are paid more than me. Being in that circle, I have to be excited for vacations we can’t afford and answer questions from our kids of why don’t have the same things.
2.      When we mention that we are “those people” using the system, we have to constantly hear, “Well, not you. That’s different.” Well, actually, its people just like us. In fact, it’s people who haven’t had the opportunities we have all of our lives. It’s people who have come from worse family situations. I know, because many of them are my friends. And secretly, I often identify with them as equals more than those with equal degrees.
3.      We are everyone’s garbage can. Have furniture you don’t want? Have clothes that don’t fit? Pass them over here! Our entire house is made up of furniture that we didn’t choose. Our closets too. Want to know why my clothes don’t fit? Because they were given to me because I was “close enough” to the size of the giver. The rub is that we have to be grateful for other people’s used-up stuff. We have to learn to say thank you for food our kids won’t eat, clothes that are worn out, and broken furniture.
4.      I can’t shop where you shop, or as often as you shop. Last week, we took my daughter to Kohl’s and let her pick 2 things for the first time…from the clearance rack. You say you shop at Walmart? Don’t worry, we don’t shop there either. We shop at thrift stores. But we haven’t always been able to shop there either. One winter, I was expected to go on an international trip for seminary (talk about guilt-we have never taken the kids on a family vacation where we didn’t stay with relatives, and I HAD to go to Italy), and didn’t have the clothes. When I mentioned this to friends, one of them, well meaning, told me to just go to Goodwill. I took a deep breath before telling her, “You don’t understand. We don’t have that much money.” That’s right. I didn’t have $15 for 3-4 pairs of pants. Shopping was not a leisure activity for me. It was work. I could only afford one or two items at a time, and they had to be items that would work with everything already in my wardrobe.
5.      I can’t grab a pop or go out to eat without feeling guilty.  Even though I just spent last night finishing a major paper for my masters degree, my kid got on the honor roll, or it’s our anniversary, because I need help with my kid’s health insurance, or can’t afford $300 in basic groceries every month, I shouldn’t spend the 79 cents for a pop at the gas station or the $20 to take my kid to their favorite restaurant. Try explaining that logic to a 5 year old. Because someone helps us buy groceries, I can’t buy you ice cream for getting your first gold star in day care.
6.      Hearing the same people complain about being you being on welfare and that you are paid too much for the work you do. And hearing those same people say how, they can’t imagine not having a solid income. In the same meeting. Having the same people who set your income, give you a thanksgiving dinner because your kids qualify for reduced lunches at school. That is hard enough. But remember, they gave you a dinner, so they expect to be thanked profusely for their generosity.

I get it. It’s hard to care about the poor. We have had friends who complained about being poor, but wouldn’t get a job. We have had friends on government programs who spent money on things we didn’t agree with. But we have had lots of richer friends who spent money on things we don’t agree with. And in all fairness, we have spent money on things that you probably wouldn’t agree with. But we have also made sacrifices that you struggle to imagine. 

So my recommendation? If you are middle class, stop listening to people who make more than you describe poverty. Ask someone who receives aid, “What are some of the things that are hard because of your income level?” And not just so you can write them a check, but so you can give them what money can’t buy: respect and dignity.