“Be willing to take some risks,” said Bishop Laurie Haller and “reach out to a hurting world with the love of Christ.” Her challenge was to pastors of some of Iowa’s largest churches, who gathered on March 30 at Altoona United Methodist Church. At the same time, she invited the nearly 40 clergy present to “protect your spirits, cultivate relationships with others, and understand the joys and trials of being in pastoral ministry.”
To view images from the day, please visit our Flickr gallery.
Grounding today’s ministry to a historic context, Bishop Laurie noted, “From the beginning, the Methodist church was a contextual ministry. Just as early on, we must minister to people where they are. We also should go out from our buildings. And remember, personal holiness and social holiness go together, that was something John Wesley appreciated and was saturated in.”
Pastors of large churches in Iowa serve congregations with average worship attendance of more than 200. Host pastor, Rev. John Gaulke, reminded the gathering, “There is no more important profession than ministry, offering the Good News, love, and the acceptance of Jesus Christ.”
On the theme of risk-taking, Bishop Laurie noted “that’s something missing in many churches. Often we’re afraid to try something because we’re afraid to fail.” She invited the group to reflect on Jesus’ advice from Matthew 9.16-17: “No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskins would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. (CEB)”
“Taking risks is one thing that churches are reluctant to do, but must do,” Bishop Laurie noted. “We need to go out into the community and get involved in what’s happening.” She shared some reasons why millennials, for example, seem to be missing from communities of faith: Mission and vision statements aren’t enough; they don’t want us to keep blaming the culture; they want to feel valued and want us to be kind, compassionate and accepting; they want to be mentored and become partners in ministry; they want to talk about controversial issues; they want to help the poor; and they want to connect with the community and make a difference in the world.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go. (T. S. Eliot) This, and other insights on risk taking, were shared by Bishop Laurie. She also noted, from among the quotes, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
“We need to keep trying different things,” she added. “When new ideas arise we need to ask, ‘Does it fit with the mission,’ minimize or eliminate roadblocks and find ways to empower people to be in ministry.” Some of the “risks clergy must take” include: being transparent and vulnerable; sharing power with the laity; talking openly about stewardship; being open to the transforming power of the Spirit; challenging others to a deeper walk with God; leading through adaptive change and necessary endings; and saying “I’m sorry.”
In the ensuing question and answer session conversation included the imperative to start new churches. “We need to be strategic in new church starts,” Bishop Laurie advised. “We need to provide the support and get the help to be able to do that.” Regarding congregational revitalization, she added, “HCI is providing new hopes and possibilities.”
An afternoon session included a discussion of the L3 (loving, learning, leading) process in which the Conference is engaged, led by Rev. Bill Poland, Rev. Barrie Tritle, and Rev. Jon Disburg. Bishop Laurie also led a short segment about the work of the Commission on the Way Forward and the Iowa Conference’s week of prayer – March 21-27 – for the work of the Commission.
Appreciation was expressed to Pastor John Gaulke and the staff of the Altoona United Methodist Church, which opened some refurbished facilities, that day, for the gathering. Thanks, as well, to Diane Brookmeyer and Sara Carlson, of the Episcopal Office, for managing the day’s arrangements. And thanks to “The Band” of Chris St. Clair, Bob Barrett, and John Louk for providing the music and leading the singing.