Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Let's Pray About It

I've had some folks ask me, "Well, are you be glad to be back doing 'real ministry?'" My response has been, "I never stopped." Others (mostly United Methodists) will say, "Well, you know there's nothing more 'ex-' than being an ex-District Superintendent." I guess some people think that way, but I never really saw becoming a DS as "having arrived" - to me, it's more of a ministry shift than a change in ministry hierarchy. The thing I get asked the most, both from clergy and laity alike: "How's the 'honeymoon' going?" That one's easy: I don't think there's been a "honeymoon" phase to pastoral ministry for 10+ years, and the admonition of "don't change anything for a year" is fool's advice. The urgency of the Gospel and the season we find ourselves in doesn't lend itself to honeymoons or break-in periods. We hit the ground running and build bridges while walking across them.

So... what's the most important thing to do in this season of change and urgency? Amidst strategies and visioning processes, it had all best begin with - and be bathed with - prayer. Prayer is where we have to start. Effective change without prayer will not work. As church researcher and trend analyst Thom Rainer said a few years ago, "I have never seen successful and sustaining change take place in a church without prayer. Never. Not once."

I don't mean prayer as in the trite response we sometimes give when confronted with adversity or tragedy, i.e., "Let's just pray about it." Prayer is not a list of needs and desires, but rather  communication with God. We need to stop and pray, and as with all communication we are usually better off to speak less and listen more. Our prayers can easily become one-sided conversations in which we talk so much God cannot get a word in edgewise. Praying helps us hear and know what God might be saying to us, rather than what we might want, need, think, or say.

For the past several years, Jackson First UMC has been undergoing a long-range, strategic planning process to help us envision the future. One thing that businesses, organizations, and churches are notorious for doing is failing to implement such plans. I believe the time has come for us to move from our plan toward casting a vision and implementing that plan. Already identified are the primary areas of focus for our church: Communication, Mission, Worship, and Discipleship.

How do we live into this new direction and change? Prayer. If we want to change the world and change the downtown area of Jackson, we first have to see what we need to change about ourselves! The question we need to continually ask ourselves about everything we do as a church: How does this help us make disciples of Jesus Christ?

That's not just the mission of Jackson First UMC. That's the Great Commission!