By Brian Foreman
CBF Fellows is a two-year ministry program for ministers in their “first-call” in congregational ministry. They meet six times a year to provide support and empower ministers to commit to serving their congregations. At the Chicago cohort, Kan’Dace Brock, pastor of The Message Church in San Antonio, invited fellow clergy to consider a new frame of mind in ministry.
“Begin with the end in mind because God has equipped you and prepared you for a time as this.”
After she said this, the room went quiet with reflection. She asked the group of clergy around her to consider how believing this might change the way they practice ministry and how the congregation engages its calling.
There are two other questions implied for ministers and congregations to answer before they can honestly answer Kan’Dace’s question:
- Are you aware of the gifts and assets that God has provided, perhaps in preparation of “such a time as this?”
- Do you have clarity about what or where God is calling you or your congregation?
The answer to each of these questions may be found in wrestling with one while keeping an eye on the other.
Consider this: How important is using the right types of plants for creating a successful landscape? Plants that will thrive in one condition may die quickly in another. They may just limp along, giving the gardener false hope.
I thought about this as I walked through the Garfield Conservatory in Chicago. Recently, our CBF Fellow Kelsey Lewis from First Baptist Church Wilson mentioned how the different climate in each room allowed various plants to grow in a hospitable space. Clearly it does not make sense to plant cacti in the front yard of a Connecticut home. Yet when it comes to ministry, a similar practice gets repeated too often.
When we imagine a thriving ministry program, we often begin with something we have seen work successfully in another context. There was a time when I worked as a youth minister at a church in a rural setting. Having spent my teen years in a large city like Charlotte, NC, there were several ideas that made sense in Charlotte that were not going to translate in rural context. It did not mean one location was less than the other; but it was clear that everything from one context did not need to be brought to the other.
Now imagine your response to Brock’s statement, “Begin with the end in mind because God has equipped you and prepared you for a time such as this.” What gifts has God given you in your context? What are the things you take for granted? Who are the people in your community?
I heard a story of a denominational church growth expert who went to consult a congregation in a fast-growing mountain community. The largest demographic moving into the area were retirees. Entire neighborhoods, community centers and shopping districts were transformed to cater to this burgeoning population. The church was growing, but the congregation sought to do better work. They invited an “expert.” The expert stood before the congregation and told them exactly what to do: focus on youth, children and young families.
That might be sound advice for another congregation in another community, but it was an exercise in missing the point for this congregation. The gifts they have are designed to reach an active, older community. By using the assets around them and in the congregation, the church was capable of effective ministry in the community. What would happen if they followed the expert’s advice? What would happen if they answered Brock’s statement?
We must ask and answer the question as to how God has equipped us. What has God prepared us for in this moment? It would serve us well to consider these questions as opposed to chasing the newest idea, fad or “expert” piece of advice. After all, you know your community far better than the author of the latest church-growth book.
Spend some time with these questions in your congregation. Do this with a prayerful posture about what God is revealing in the answers.
- What are the gifts and passions of the people in this congregation?
- Where do our people naturally connect with the community outside the walls of the church?
- What is causing excitement in the community around our congregation?
God, allow us to open our eyes to see what you have prepared us for, recognizing that our gifts are enough when they are used faithfully with what you are calling us to do. May we be faithful as we trust that you are equipping us and directing our creativity to see the community the way you would have us to see it. Amen.