Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Not Your Parents' D.S. - Part Two

¶ 419. As an extension of the office of bishop, the district superintendent shall oversee the total ministry of the clergy (including clergy in extension ministry and ministry beyond the local church) and of the churches in the communities of the district in their missions of witness and service in the world. 
   1. The Church expects, as part of the superintendent ministry, that the superintendent will be the chief missional strategist of the district...working with persons across the Church to develop programs of ministry and mission which extend the witness of Christ into the world. - from the Book of Discipline, 2012, new language highlighted.

As I continue to live into this new part of my ministry expectations, I realize how much of a cultural mindset I have to work against. For so many years, district superintendents often gave well-meaning advice to pastors, such as: (1) the "one year rule" - don't change anything in your first year in a church, (2) seek to change by evolution rather than revolution. If these are understood as being a good listener and being kind, I think this is sage advice. However, if it falls under the category of being a benevolent hireling and gives in to a consumerist rather than missional mentality, then I think we make a supreme mistake.

We Christians are living in interesting times, and the case can be made that we are now a remnant church rather than an established one. While our mindset should have been missional all along, we are now forced to think of ourselves as such (which is not a bad thing!). But to shift back to being missional rather than institutional, we have to be ready to adopt another mindset and face deep change - deep change which can be exciting but also painful.

But it also forces district superintendents to adopt a new mindset too. Our job is not so much to satisfy clergy and congregations, administrate and act as personnel manager, but to help clergy and congregations discover what is the most faithful thing we can do to serve the mission field. That means getting to what our purpose is instead of making known what our preference is (I know, strange words to hear from a D.S. in March!!). That's going to be rough for everyone: congregations know what they like and don't like, pastors have in their minds what the ideal church should look like and do, and D.S.'s want to get the slots filled and for everyone to just get along. The reality is, a missional mindset may be about (at least initially) bringing a sword instead of peace. (Note: those are Jesus' words, not mine. Just sayin.')

Our work as disciples isn't just important work - it's sacred work. As the Memphis and Tennessee conference begin to live into what Bishop McAlilly is leading us toward, there is nothing sacred but the mission. It's the Christian way of living, not the latest pre-packaged downloadable program! This is something that, while hard, is something we can do!

Those few of us left in the remnant church cannot afford to bicker at each other anymore; our American political system is presently giving us a very poor example on how to work with each other. We have to be one with each other; indeed, we live by faith and hope and by the Golden Rule, speaking TO each other rather than about and around each other. A missional church can work no other way, and we may find that our differences from each other are our gifts to each other. The Twelve that Jesus gathered together were quite the mixed bag, yet went forth as the first missionaries to be the Church.

They sacrificed, though. A lot. Some with their lives. They lost friends along the way. Their "new" way offended many. Yet they believed that there was nothing more sacred than the mission: making disciples of Jesus Christ. Do we believe that? Can we believe that? And can we be not just hearers, but also doers, of the Word?

We can do this, Church.