06 March 2009


At 6:00 am on Saturday morning, Red picked up Larry Matthews and drove to Men’s Bible Study at the Lion’s Mane Grill.

The “usual suspects” were all there, Larry and Red being the youngest. Pastor Rex led their continued study of Romans, concentrating this week on Romans 13.

After the study ended, the group enjoyed their usual breakfast. As they were preparing to leave, Larry motioned to Red that he was leaving with Dave Duncan. Red and Rex turned to each other and said “Do you have….”

Red paused. “Sorry, go ahead.”

Rex replied, “No, please, continue.”

“Well, I was going to ask if you have a few extra minutes.”

“Wow,” the Pastor smiled. “I was going to ask you the same thing. Let’s drive back to the church, OK?”

When they were settled in the pastor’s study, Rex visibly wilted. “Red, I think I’ve had enough. I have been praying about Monday’s session meeting all week. I feel as if I have failed both God and this congregation. God sent me here to care for this congregation and instead, they are still grounded in the world. I lost control of that meeting, and, you know what, I found that I just didn’t care. I have tried to be the leader I think God wants me to be, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. That was your first session meeting. What were your reactions?”

Red was stunned. He had been dreading this conversation, and now, he and the Pastor were on the same page. After quickly thanking God for this opportunity, Red sat back and smiled.

“This leadership stuff is hard, isn’t it?”

“You’ve got that right. I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I just seem to have no effect here.”

“Listen, Rex, you have what I call ‘the American illness.’ We are now a ‘59 minute’ society. The problem is introduced in the first two minutes, followed by the opening credits and the first commercial. We expect the problem to be neatly wrapped up for a happy ending by the end of the hour, with plenty of time for commercials. We are no longer capable of taking the long view—the 40 years in the wilderness view.”

“There was a saying in the Marine Corps,” Red continued. “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember that you came here to drain the swamp.”

Rex’s eyes widened, and then he began to chuckle. “That’s gonna be hard to incorporate into a sermon!”

Red nodded. “You know, I have marveled at your ability to respond to the needs of this congregation. You are there for every problem, every tragedy, every need. But let me ask you this, ‘Who is your pastor?’ To whom do you go to unburden yourself. And I don’t mean God. I know you have a healthy prayer life. But who has He sent to you to be your pastor?”

“Oh, I talk to my seminary roommate every month or so.”

“Not enough, pal. You need someone to bounce ideas off of, to vent with, to hold accountable and be held accountable by. What you need is a Ministry Network.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I need to add that to the docket for the next session meeting.”

“Hold on there, Pastor fella. Glad to hear that the session will be talking about that, but we’re talking about you this morning. You know that Frog’s Neck, Conestoga Road and 2d in Lenapi Trail have formed a Ministry Network, right? Why not contact those pastors and see about getting Graying into the Net. I mean, we are done with all that top down, we’re the Bishop and you had better get used to it, we’re gonna ride you like a horse out at Churchill Downs, mentality with the old denomination. These folks have found a new way to be the church, at the lowest level where mission and ministry have always happened. We need to be part of that—and it gives you local support. It gives you a pastor.”

“Let me guess,” Rex said. “You’ve been surfing the net again.”

Red smiled back. “Oh, a little. I like the idea that we can remain traditionally presbyterian, while losing the career bureaucrats and corporate business model of management. A Ministry Network ‘is a relational connection between congregations and their leaders who ordinarily share a common geographic proximity. The Ministry Network does not exist for itself but to serve its constituent congregations in their respective works of ministry and mission. Congregations will be healthier when their spiritual leaders are joined in close friendships of mutual support, trust and encouragement and accountability. Such relationships create a natural opportunity for sharing resources, fostering spiritual growth, offering encouragement, and providing theological, moral and missional accountability. Congregations will also be healthier when they are able to link together in some form of common mission: sharing strengths to compensate for weaknesses, sharing wisdom to offset ignorance, and sharing in collaboration to offset individualism.’”

“But for our conversation this morning, the real value of the Ministry Network lies in the Pastors’ Covenant Group. Made up of all pastors, pastoral candidates, parish associates, visitation pastors, commissioned lay pastors and commissioned lay pastor candidates in active ministry in a congregation, and retired pastors, it meets at least once per quarter [and in many instances, once per month or even once a week] for worship, prayer, study, mutual support, accountability, and ministry planning. . . . It is what the presbytery used to be before it got bogged down in the worship of polity and Roberts.”

“But I already have too many meetings as it is,” Pastor Rex sighed.

“There are meetings and then there are meetings. That’s what I wanted to discuss with you. You often allow the session to avoid the hard work of leadership that is theirs to perform. Ruling Elders and the Teaching Elder are equals. At best, you are primer inter pares because you are designated as moderator and you have certain specifically assigned duties that the session cannot usurp. But when you let the session treat you like a hired hand, foisting off on you their responsibility, you are bound to wear yourself out.”

“No, Pastor, being part of a Ministry Network may be the grease that reduces the friction in your professional and spiritual life.”

Well! How will Pastor Rex react? What will the session say when they hear what Red has said? Has anyone at Graying other than Red actually read the Book of Order? What is a Ministry Network and from where did it come? Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of Graying Pres.


Mike said...

keep 'em coming!

Rev Kim said...

Once again, yes!

One of the things that I love about this Presbytery is that we are a close knit group. We have to be, with only 32 churches that are spread across the state. When I first came here, one of the pastors began calling me every couple of weeks or so to talk, find out how things were going, share ideas, pray with me. It was such a blessing and really helped with the loneliness and isolation which for me was an unexpected part of parish ministry. So special did this pastor become through these conversations that he performed our wedding. We still have those conversations 3 1/2 years later. There are at least four pastors in this presbytery with whom I am close and call when I need a pastor, plus "my" pastor - the pastor at my home church when I began to feel the call to ministry. I also meet weekly with a clergy study group. Though there is only one other pastor in the group with whom I am on the same page theologically, since we are all familiar with the challenges of ministering in our small town there is much support, too.