The First Congregational Church of Darien

United Church of Christ

A community of faith since 1737

WHAT IT TAKES TO GROW MINISTERS AMONG US

As his ordination approached, both Gary and I insisted it was not only about his life, but most especially about FCC, Darien. My charge to all churches present at his ordination reflected this.  Some churches produce ministers and contribute to the church’s leadership pool for the future (like us right now). Other churches consume pastors and send clergy scrambling for career exits.

It’s an either/or because one way is life and the other spells spiritual death. And it’s impossible to be coming alive and also simultaneously an instrument of death. The difference is subtle, even invisible, but it is real.  My charge meant to support the visiting clergy. One described me as, “drawing a protective circle around them.” And that was my intention, to articulate a word needing to be spoken that normally goes unspoken.  So here are a few highlights of that charge:

Churches that consume ministers treat us as enabling leaders.  That is, we are only here to help the church do what it would have done without us anyway already. These churches act like they know our jobs better than we do; as though what ministry is about is covered elsewhere, like in their daytime jobs. Needing to control us will bring zero discovery and no adventure to ministry.

Churches that produce clergy look to us as initiating leaders. You give us leeway to move and to let God’s Spirit roam. You trust and invite our gifts, training and life experiences for dreaming dreams and seeing visions.  You see the church as unique, giving its ministry oxygen to breathe deeply and become Christ’s living body.  So instead of conforming to the world, we transform it.

Churches that consume ministers act like customers and treat clergy as providers of religious services. Our job is to please you and meet your family’s perceived needs. It fails to notice how living in today’s intense consumer environment bleakly distorts our wants and needs.  Here the church takes on the soul of the world as consumer frenzy swallows God’s overarching purposes.

Churches that produce pastors realize our calling is to proclaim the true and living God in Christ. We don’t please you; we please God and serve you. We find our bearings in God’s idea of what it means to be human, not the world’s. You create a higher ceiling by letting us be stewards of sacred mysteries new to each generation, much more than merely scratching your spiritual itch.

Churches that consume ministers act like ministry is easy. They don’t realize that if it looks easy, it’s because we’ve worked very hard. Such churches teem with trifling little pointers for our benefit without seeing the big picture.  Churches that produce ministers respect how hard our work is. Another mass shooting this week? Everyone looks to us for solace and comfort while also expecting a socially prophetic word that offends no one.  You try that on for size sometime. Imagine if we showed up at your hedge fund office and started second-guessing your strategies.

Churches that consume pastors chat in hallways or parking lots about us in disagreeing with us. Or as you do address us, you insert “people are saying,” about as brave as unsigned crank mail.  Churches that produce ministers have members willing to look us straight in the eye as you disagree and speak for yourself.  You don’t impute anonymous support that often doesn’t exist. Let’s just ban the phrase, “people are saying.” We are not fragile hothouse flowers.  Just say it. As we stand every Sunday in a pulpit, vulnerable in our convictions, we expect the same of you.

As we bring something new, churches that consume ministers respond with, “Well, that was ok, I guess. But why didn’t you..?” In this church, whatever we venture is never good enough.  They forget that building up (creativity) is hard and tearing down (acidic criticism) is easy. Churches that produce ministers come alongside us to fan the spark of the flame of creation, as we bring forward our imperfect, flawed ideas. Together we feed the fire of God’s burning Spirit. Such churches reward extra mile effort, taking the church to the next place and bringing fresh angles.

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