The biggest question

hands

“What does this ministry really mean to you?”

This is a question that I long to ask and get a genuine answer for, however I wonder if so many congregations and individuals struggle to answer this because it isn’t something that they have actually spent time considering.

In my days as a church relations officer, I saw hundreds of very viable ministries. There was so much potential, so much hope – I highlighted many of them in this blog! A few years later, it breaks my heart to connect with individuals and hear “oh, yea… we just didn’t have the support we needed” as they explain the demise of a beautiful thing.

As a transitional pastor, I have spent a great deal of time discerning what both the youth and the young adult ministries mean to my congregation, while at the same time discerning and questioning other congregations where I might serve next. I have also had to look in the mirror and find out what my ministry really means and how I plan to continue to find the nourishment it needs.

Over the last year, these are the points (in no particular order) that I have found myself leaning on as I discern the role of a ministry within a congregation and further, my role within that ministry –

  • What is the quality of the involvement by those the ministry is meant for? In my world of youth ministry, this does not focus on how many youth show up each Sunday but how many return each Sunday and are actually involved rather than sitting on the outskirts. When the youth show up, are they running in or standing at the car trying to convince their parents to let them go to a friend’s house instead? Has the ministry found a way to reach the intended crowd or is it so focused on being the next best thing, it misses the present? A pastor and search committee want to tell you how wonderful the ministry is, but nothing speaks louder than the actions and faces of those most directly affected by the ministry.
  • Who is involved in leading the ministry? As a young adult, it is easy for me to set a schedule and curriculum for my young adult group. The ministry isn’t about me though, and so I have asked for five young adults to help make these decisions and branch out further for weekly volunteers. When looking at the overall picture, are pastors the sole leader? Are parents the only ones volunteering? No sustainable ministry runs through the efforts or ideas of a single person but we also have to be careful how many are leading. Too many leaders makes for long, unproductive meetings and very few opportunities for the occasional volunteer.
  • What is the attitude of the wider congregation? When I first arrived at my current congregation, it seemed that there was a line out the door for weeks. Every person was ready to tell me what went wrong before, who had been forgotten or ignored, the way they would do it if they were behind the desk, and why my efforts for a young adult ministry were nice but would likely not work. First, you have to know what the attitude is so that you can prepare yourself for it (like when the server at Chili’s says “Careful! The plate is hot” so you know to either not touch it all or to touch it gently as a test.) In the larger picture, we need to know the attitude so that we know what concerns will need to be addressed and who will be the first (and last) to step up and help you (see my second point).
  • What does the budget say about the ministry? When looking at the budget, do the line items match the ministry being described? One line item I am in the process of fixing is something as simple as the name of one of our summer youth trips. If the budget does not reflect the current trips and projects, how much does the session (or any committee or advisory board) know about the active ministry? Then there is the more complicated and all-to-present struggle in the youth ministry world – college students. It seems that every congregation wishes to minster to college students, however so few have a line-item for that. Ministry takes money – point blank. If there is no line item, where does that money come from? Even if the value is almost non-existent, the presence of a line-item shows an effort to create and hope to sustain a ministry.
  • Finally, at the end of the day when everything has gone wrong and the team is exhausted, when there are more questions than answers and it seems like all hope is lost – will the ministry continue? Are those who attend, lead, and support invested enough to go home and get some rest before getting back to it tomorrow? Do the relationships forming the beautiful web of ministry continue to hold the community together despite the wind and rain trying to tear it apart? Do the prayers for healing and strength transform into prayers of thanksgiving as each person looks around the table and remembers the point of all of this – to love God and one another? Ministry is not easy and rarely provides the answers needed. It involves too many people to get a 100% approval rating. It is exhausting, emotionally taxing, self-sacrificing, beautiful and empowering work. Yes, it might seem like all hope is lost, but is there someone around the table who can remind us that all hope is found when we look to God instead of to the volunteer forms, budget sheet, attendance records, and latest viral article?

So, what does this ministry mean to you? Why do you attend, volunteer, or lead? What steps are you willing to take to ensure that there is a tomorrow? What support is present outside of the pastor’s office?

I encourage you to choose one ministry within your congregation and discuss with your leaders what the ministry really means to the congregation. Maybe you will learn that it means so much more than you ever thought; maybe you will learn that it is an item that should have been deleted off of the budget sheet and volunteer form years ago. It seems we so desperately want to be bigger and better than the church down the street, we forget how to be the best version of ourselves. I pray that each one of us might find new ways to discern what that means in our congregational and personal lives.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

 

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Let’s change the discussion

During our recent officer training, I asked those gathered “If I said we were going to go across the street to the shopping center and talk to people about what we believe, could y’all do it?” There was nervous laughter and a great deal of hesitance. Needless to say, I was not surprised in the least.

clamAs I led the discussion about evangelism and why it doesn’t have to be such a bad thing (guided by the notes from lectures led by Union’s visiting professor of evangelism, John Vest), I couldn’t help but think about my own struggle with evangelism outside of the church walls. Put me in a confirmation classroom and I will find excitement I didn’t think anyone could have about our confessions.  Somehow, in that setting, I get lucky enough that at least one kid will play along with that excitement. Give me a list of bible-based trivia questions and I can’t hold back from giving the kids the background information for that question. Ask me what I do professionally while I am “out and about” and I am likely to clam up (not as often as I used to, but it is definitely still a struggle!)

I have spent time thinking about this “clam up” response and have realized that it is merely a response to how I think the other person will respond. It seems that every media outlet tells us that religion is no longer important and “just being good” is enough. I hear that young adults all around the country are running away from churches. In a world of likes, loves, and angry faces, who really wants to put something so personal as their faith out there to be scrutinized?

I think about my friends, and grocery store acquaintances, who have raved about their church experiences and faith. I was jealous of their excitement and freedom to tell anyone and everyone about something so personal, but then I realized that I have no less freedom than they do, and really I have no less excitement.

With all of this rolling around in my head, I left for a much needed vacation. While at a local brewery, my husband and I found ourselves in conversation with two men who just got off work. Somehow, we went at least twenty minutes in the conversation about their work and my husband’s work without anyone asking what I do professionally… and then my husband mentioned it, “… and with her being a pastor…” My heart sank. I thought for sure the conversation was over or I was going to hear the endless apology for why these gentlemen didn’t go to church this week (or any other week).

“Oh, wow! Where are you a pastor?”

The conversation opened in a new way as we talked about the Presbyterian churches in the area that this gentleman could visit (he just so happened to be looking for a church). He asked why it was so important to me to be a pastor and if it was hard to be a pastor at a bar. I didn’t have to change what I was saying or doing, I just shared my own experience – I shared who I am instead of hiding behind who I feared someone would think I am.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkin.jpgAs I strive to be more comfortable with evangelism and encourage my congregation as well, I am becoming more and more convinced that the first step to evangelism is being comfortable with who you are.   Evangelism is about knowing what you believe, why you believe, and getting excited about that.   Evangelism is finding confidence in that grace we receive from God and sharing it with others.   If we are confident within the church walls, why can’t we take that confidence in God’s grace out into the world?

If you have not yet attended a lecture or discussion led by John Vest, I do highly recommend finding one! If you are unable to, take some time to think about your faith and what about it excites you and find ways to share that in your everyday life. We don’t hesitate to share our thoughts about food, animals, and politics – so why do we hesitate to share our thoughts and beliefs in regards to our faith?   What would happen in this broken and hurting world if we all embraced and shared our faith just a little bit more?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)