Sunday, February 1, 2009

Going once…Going twice…

Something many seminarians decry, once they’ve entered the workaday life of congregational ministry, is a lack of training they’ve received in so-called ‘practical matters.’ I’ve never been a big fan of this argument, but here’s how it often proceeds- New pastors receive a call, they put freshly framed diplomas and ordination certificates on their new office walls, and soon enough the Finance Team of this new church calls a meeting. The pastors sit down with these wonderful church volunteers (for the record, I will always be deeply, greatly, effusively appreciative of our volunteer Financial Team; a few members whose ministry to you and I is spending their free time going over budgets, counting pledges, implementing stewardship strategies, etc.. Thank you!! And if you want to join the Team, please, please let me know), and they begin talking “Budget.” All of sudden, new pastors feel inadequate to the task. They may be able to quote John 1:1 in Greek, or explain the two-source theory of development of the synoptic Gospels, but most pastors never took a class in financial management or organizational fund-raising. So this conversation can produce insecurity, or defensiveness, or worst of all, a deterioration of their hard-won, but sometimes fragile confidence in their own leadership ability. “If only I’d learned to use Microsoft Excel,” they bemoan, “or took a workshop on fiscal solvency in non-profit organizations…”

Perhaps there’s something to those concerns; certainly there’s something real about those feelings of stress and insufficiency. But without trying to sound too glib or insensitive, I don’t buy it. For starters, the most experienced pastors I know, even some who make the argument above, seem quite up to the task when confronted with financial management. Some are even downright creative wizards who might’ve done very well at Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns (but are currently glad they chose a different calling). So there’s something to be said for experience being a good teacher, and that us newbie pastors should foster the patience to appreciate the many ways that non-ordained church members can help us to be better pastors. And besides, the three years I spent in seminary will be the only time in my life I will wholly focus on learning the faith as richly and comprehensively as possible. I wouldn’t give that up for classes in subjects I can learn just as well from the accountants, and bankers, and managers I’ve met in my congregations.

So when Steve Weaver sent me an email, saying, “I want to do a fund-raiser for the church,” my first thought was not, “Why didn’t I think of that?!?” I thought, “Yesssss!!!” And I hope you’ll join me in being glad that happened. Until then, I didn’t know that this is somewhat of a tradition at Plymouth Creek, a nice and joyful evening of members serving each other, giving to their church and celebrating the ministry we can do together. As I thought back on last Saturday’s auction, something fun occurred to me: that in fundraising for our mission efforts, many of us bought pies, which we subsequently shared with others. Brilliant. We commit ourselves to hospitality, and in response offer hospitality to others. Though, to be honest, if I’d bought a plate of buffalo wings, I might not have shared so easily…

The point is that in learning something new about the way that Plymouth Creek ‘does church,’ it reinforced something I did learn at seminary, and made up for some of the stuff I didn’t- This ministry is our ministry. When it comes to finances or fund-raising, we share the joy being good stewards of God’s resources for God’s outpouring of unyielding love for all Creation. In like manner, when it comes to planning and implementing other ways this community will pursue that grand calling, we share that too. I’ve been humbled thus far by the many ways you’ve undertaken that responsibility, of which Steve’s work is but one example. And thus I’m excited to see what you come up with next. No matter how hard they might try, they couldn’t teach that in seminary.

Grace and Peace,


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