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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Turning around

At at meeting of some pretty great progressive Christian leaders the other day, I overheard one of them remark about a website named "Patheos." It gets a million hits or more a month. I visited the site again (I had been there before, even "liked" it on Facebook), but this time with an renewed interest. What do a million plus of us find so damn interesting on that site? (It was at this point where I realized I was once again sucked into the marketing machine that is Christian internet ministry these days. Oh well, live and learn.)

I was a part of a group that founded a community in Bismarck, North Dakota a few years back. We did little to advertise that we were meeting. The editor of the local paper did a nice feature on the ministry, and periodically she would seek me out for some quotations on a religious topic or two, but as far as I know--we never advertised or marketed a single ministry we ever did. At the end, as I moved on to follow Jesus into a new "market" I look back on that time as some of the best ministry I was ever able to be a part of. In large part because I never had to worry about whether people "visited" my site.

I mean, we could actually pray in worship...not just silence for our own personal agendas, but vocal corporate prayer in which the agonies and celebrations of lives could be shared. Some of the folks who had only been part of large, denominational congregations all their lives never knew how comforting and relieving such prayer can be. Imagine if you didn't have to hold onto all your secrets and suspicions about your life, but could actually voice them, have God and some of God's people hold and cherish them (or help you get rid of them!)? Truly amazing...

But I don't kid myself...this kind of ministry is not for everyone. (I just did my taxes...I lost %75 of my income over the 3 years of that ministry. The only real downside is that I cannot pay for my kids to attend college. I feel bad about that.) You have to be the kind of person that does not mind having friends; you have to be willing to talk to anyone, especially strangers and people you do not like; you have to be willing to have plans fail; and you have to be willing to ask for help. That kind of ministry worked for me.

It didn't take long for me to realize that such a ministry, solely and wholly committed to building and maintaining relationships, and not marketing and making sure people visisted us, was not going to last. It's almost as if the emotional and psychic energy of such a minstry has a built-in timer. Three years, and you have to give it a rest...

As I drove away from Bismarck that last time as a pastor in town I passed a congregation that had a large cross out in its yard. I smiled...at least after my three years I didn't die on one of those. But after three years of living and working with some of the most beautiful and wonderful people I have ever known I too knew that it was finished for me, and there was no turning around.

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