By Rev. David Christy, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
One of the great things about getting to be a local church pastor is that we are allowed to witness different “ways of being” (culture) local churches. Each church has its own culture. I think the role of the clergy is to remind the church what they already know: the culture reflects the God who calls us into ministry together! We can realize that through intentional prayer groups, Wesleyan accountability groups, or other shared ministry.
I am pretty simple, but it seems to me that through the years we have spent way too much time and energy trying to make churches something that they are not. We are not businesses or professional offices – we are the Body of Christ! That means that God has called and gifted people for generations before we arrived! My mantra that I repeat to myself and our leaders is that we must trust God enough to trust people! We must empower people to do ministry using their unique gifts the way they feel called to use them! This is a key for me to state over and over again.
It is also a key for me to remember in my own ministry. When I am in touch with my call, I am a much better pastor and far more willing to see the variety of gifts in the local church. When I become so busy that my calling becomes a job, I get consumed by trying to create the culture I desire instead of what God desires. I can burn out of job, but not a calling.
A helpful book that reminds me that this is God’s culture instead of mine is What Church Members Wish Ministers Knew by Jan Linn. My mother gave me this book 20 years ago when I shared with the people who love me most that I was considering quitting my job. The book is short and meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it reminds me that church members want the ministry of their church (and even their minister!) to be successful! Linn writes, “Church members… want their spirits lifted and their hearts moved. They are wondering what is wrong with ministers who seem so uninspired themselves. They can tell their minister is not exactly excited about ministry. They know ministry is not easy, but they don’t understand why the power of the gospel does not sustain the minister in spite of the difficulties”(84). That page is dog-eared and I go to it often when ministry becomes a job and the culture of church becomes focused on us rather than on God.
The gospel really does sustain us! The church is a tangible witness to the presence of God in good times and bad times. As I look back over 27 years of ministry, I am so thankful for God’s presence in churches of kazoo bands, hotdogs, mission trips, large staffs and no staffs, successes and failures. When I remember my calling and allow the church to live into its calling, God’s culture is present (and so is my calling)!