A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Don’t want to be all by myself November 23, 2013

Friday mornings on the weeks I preach are typically spent in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee either writing the sermon that I have been hammering out in my head all week or reworking a draft from the day before. But this morning it was spent staring at a blank screen. By lunch time I was still at the word count of zero. It’s not that I didn’t have an idea, I did, it’s just that I didn’t have a way to articulate my idea and I was too caught up in my own baggage with the text (and frankly the whole idea of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday). I sat and ruminated for a bit and then texted by BFF who is also a pastor. She is not preaching on this text, her senior pastor is, and I could call him (I know him well enough to do that) to work out my issues but she also offered to talk it through with me. So, while I really like her senior pastor, I jumped at the chance to talk to my best friend.
We talked it through she called me out on my issues and I was able to write a first draft in a fairly short amount of time. Once again, I was reminded why we don’t do ministry alone. I need someone to check me when I am uncertain, to boost me when I need encouragement and a collaborator for when my creativity is low. Leta, Gus and me have a website together of faith formation resources and we collaborate constantly. We call each other for ideas in our own congregations, we run ideas past each other that only get better after all three of us put our brains on it and we think deeply about the long term trajectory of the institutional Church that we work for.
I only know this sort of collaboration in my ministry. I have had the good fortune to be on staff at churches that could afford multiple staff. When you are part of a larger whole, you naturally collaborate, check-in, ask opinions, get advice and know that if things get tough you have people to turn to for support. But I know that this is not the case in many ministry contexts. The now well-known decline of the mainline protestant churches means that many clergy sit alone in their office all week long with maybe a part-time secretary if they are lucky. Sure there might be the pianist/organist that might show up during the week or some committed volunteer staff but it is not quite the same. You can’t work out your own theological musings or get advice on dealing with a tricky pastoral care situation with volunteers that are parishioners. Many have a strong clergy text study where this sort of support can and sometimes does happen but some churches are too rural for a pastor to attend regularly. Even if the pastor can go weekly, it’s not possible to have or expect the same type of collaboration or support that you might get from being a part of a staff at a weekly text study with multiple clergy who are also working alone.
I have never wanted to be a solo pastor. Even in seminary when we were told that the reality of being solo was high, I secretly prayed that would never be the case. Some of my classmates really enjoyed the thought of being a solo, doing it their way, not having to check in with someone. But I don’t think I would be great totally by myself; I know my own limitations and shortcomings (it’s a longer list than we have time for); I wanted to be on staff as an associate where I could collaborate, know that I didn’t have to be everything to all people, and share the ministry someone else. It’s a big task to reveal the mercy and love of God in a community and Jesus even sent the disciples out in pairs; God doesn’t expect us bear witness to what God is doing in the world alone.
I am very blessed to be on staff with a senior pastor (I am told that I don’t say how wonderful he is as a senior pastor enough so here you go Rob!) who has always been a solo pastor but is very open to what team ministry looks like and is a quick study. Frankly, it could only be a God thing that we are in ministry together as we work very effectively as a team. But what about those pastors who will never have that opportunity to be part of a ministry team? I have been partnering with a solo pastor at another church in the area for confirmation and this has been positive for both congregations. What if pastors were intentional about checking in with what their colleagues in the area were up to and seeing if they can be a part of that ministry or invite them into their congregations ministry? I think this is the future of ministry in the Church. I partner with a couple of solo pastors in my conference for faith formation ministry (my passion) and this is positive for them and for me. The more colleagues (and friends!) I stay in dialog with and partner with, the better my ministry can be and I hope that their ministries are blessed as well.