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Thursday, November 05, 2009  

Last Season's Fruit is Eaten (and the Fullfed Beast Shall Kick the Empty Pail)*

Yesterday my synod held an in-service day of sorts for new pastors. It was my first time at such an event, and though my half-time schedule chafes at work tasks that don't actually accomplish things, I appreciate that our leadership cares about our professional development.

The topic was congregational renewal, and the presenters--a pastor and deacon couple who serve a church in Elgin that was about to close seven years ago--did a good job, offered good advice, and generally gave us reason to be hopeful in our work, however difficult it might seem.

A major part of the presentation, however, was given over to rubbishing the mission models of decades past. Strategic plans, mission statements, treating people as targets and/or walking wallets--all of this, we were rightly told, is exhausted as a faithful way to do evangelism. The problem with junking one set of management techniques and jargon as outmoded and culturally contingent is that you almost inevitably end up substituting a new set and new jargon. It's easy enough to see how the conventional wisdom of a generation ago unwittingly mirrored the production models in economics and marketing textbooks. It's much harder to see which trends, metaphors, and ways of thinking we are even now absorbing and re-purposing for the church. Today's exciting new approach is tomorrow's discarded holdover.

This isn't something to despair over. "For last year's words belong to last year's language / And next year's words await another voice," as Eliot says. The gritty work of gathering and regathering the faithful needs to be re-imagined constantly, and without any hope of producing the enduring monuments of poetry and theology. All the same, it goes to show that there is no substitute for faithful, well-trained, committed pastors who are deeply convinced of the world's dire condition and of the power of the Word to invade and heal it. Maybe there's no way for a church renewal approach to be anything but optimistic and forward-looking. That's all the more reason for a church leader to supply the brutal realism of Christianity him or herself.

I found myself wondering, as I often do when I encounter skill-building for ministry, "where are the sinners? Where is the catastrophic human need? Where is the singular power of the Word?" These things need to take flesh over and over again, too. The church is never fixed, because if it were possible to fix it, we wouldn't need it.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 1:48 PM
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