Changing just a few words in the way clergy see themselves can transform their ministry and mission to their communities.
A moment’s lesson for a lifetime
The first day of my church polity class, the professor, whom I knew, walked into the room and introduced himself. He said “my name is Mike Nickerson and I’m the senior pastor of Parker United Methodist Church.” Then he asked us, “what’s wrong with that?”
No one else in the room knew him, so I raised my hand and said, “you are Mike Nickerson and you are the senior pastor of Parker UMC.”
He replied, “I didn’t ask if it was correct, I asked what was wrong with it. 100 years ago I would have walked in here and said ‘My name is Mike Nickerson and I am the Methodist pastor to the people of Parker.‘ When my appointment was read the bishop would have said I was appointed to ‘the city of Parker’ and my congregation would have understood that I was there to serve outside our walls”
This interaction changed my life and ministry.
Today, one of the ways how Rev. Brad lives out this transformative moment is by serving the community first. Recently, Brad volunteered to scoop ice cream at a neighborhood ice creamery (which I’ve been to–it is yummy!). The few hours brought summer levels of business in January as his church and community partners stopped by for ice cream. The creamery contributed 10% of those sales to support not Brad’s church, but rather a local tutoring program. The publicity yielded several new tutors for the program…along with several families who also asked about the church.
Just as Brad was transformed by a simple change of words, so also churches find transformation in a similar change of word. In the 2014 book The New Parish, the authors talk about how churches should reframe their self-concept to a much older word: parish. While seemingly only used by Catholic churches or regions in New Orleans, parish extends the church’s responsibility beyond their church doors and to the community around it, with varying levels of success over the centuries:
Since Christendom, [the] institutional church more or less dictated the form of the neighborhood. The church that is emerging in the parish today is different in many ways. The first difference is that the neighborhood—in all its diversity—has a voice that contributes to the form of the church. There is a growing sense that the Spirit works through the relationships of the neighborhood to teach us what love and faithfulness look like in that particular context.
The New Parish, page 31
By reframing their existence as outward instead of inward, and how wisdom and forms come from outside their walls, churches that embrace this simple change of phrase will experience transformation.
Cooperation, not competition
As depicted above, agriculture and civil engineering tries to pixellate a fractal planet. Our churches are likewise divided up into neat boxes of who has authority over where, which doesn’t always fit organic communities. But a new sense of Parish brings with it cooperation between churches, even small struggling ones, that can overcome competitive aspects to bring the diversity of their gifts to bear on common problems. From The New Parish:
The new parish is also different in the way diverse church expressions with different names and practices are learning to live out their faith together as the unified church in and among the neighborhood. Whereas the old parish was often dictated by a single denominational outlook that functioned as law, the new parish can include many expressions of the church living in community together in the neighborhood.
Not only do parishioners learn to love and listen to neighbors from other church expressions in the parish, they also seek out partnerships with people from other faith perspectives who have common hopes for the neighborhood.The New Parish, page 31
Within a denomination as big as the United Methodist Church, it would seem that churches are assigned “their area” and fellow churches better respect their assigned regions and not do active ministry there without permission.
Recent efforts have turned that idea on its head. Six churches in a medium-sized city south of Portland, Oregon, recently banded together as the Salem Keizer Cooperative to better coordinate mission and ministry in their region. From UMC.org:
Congregations have already started their first project: working in the food ministry. The six churches host four food banks, Pitney reported. By working together to serve the food pantries, overall service will increase.
Salem-Keizer also is coordinating on pastoral care and developing an area-wide youth ministry.
“One of the immediate things we’re doing is a monthly preaching rotation,” said Bateman. “All of the preachers will get a chance to preach to every church in the ministry.”
By seeing themselves not in competition (even within a single denomination), these churches are modeling what the New Parish might look like for them.
Pastor TO the people of ______
I’m inspired by Brad’s teacher from seminary to introduce myself the same way: “I am a Methodist Pastor to the people of Portland, Oregon.” It brings with it a wider sense and scope to what my ministry responsibilities really are. And by emphasizing that shared identity, local churches better understand they don’t have “their” pastor, but share that pastor with a community to which all are called to serve.
Thoughts? Your turn:
- In what ways is your pastor (or you) actively serving the community even when the local church has no tangible benefit?
- In what ways has your community shaped your local church’s mission and outreach in ways you never would have expected?
Thanks for reading, for shares on social media, and for living out your call to ministry in your community!