Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10
So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.
Spring is often a time when many of us find a continuing education event to attend or a destination where we can get away for rest and relaxation. If you had something like that planned, your plans have most likely been cancelled or postponed. I was looking forward to a conference in Austin, Texas that would have begun next week. The focus of the conference, the 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality, is an initiative of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of Theology, Formation, and Evangelism.
Todd Bolsinger, Vice-Present and Associate Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and author of “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” was to be the keynote speaker for this event. His keynotes were titled, “The Painful Normal Road to Congregational Change: Sabotage and Conflict” and “Tempered Resilience: Formation for Facing Resistance.” How timely!
While I am disappointed not to be packing my bags for this powerful event, I am mostly disappointed not to be engaged in the kind of conversations that an event with this emphasis might initiate. And yet, I am finding a whole new avenue to have those conversations by reaching out to the congregations in our Presbytery to see how they are doing. What I have encountered is that they are living out Peter’s call to “serve one another with whatever gift each has received.”
- Our pastors have provided strong and creative leadership and tread boldly into change they probably did not have at the top of their “to do” list.
- Our congregations have showed resilience by continuing to be connected in whatever way they can and caring for those who are struggling the most.
- Our churches are a presence of love and support in their communities with meals “to go” for the homeless.
- Our worship leaders are providing music and devotions to fill the empty places in our hearts.
- Our educators and faith formation leaders are providing materials and opportunities for children and youth to be connected virtually.
- Our people are people of faith who are generous and continue to share in their abundance to support the ongoing ministries of their congregations.
In the conversations I have had with pastors and other leaders in our congregations, I hear the exhaustion, the disappointments, the frustrations, and the sadness but what I hear even more is the joy of serving one another, the strength of getting through tough times together, the courage to be the church wherever they are, and the resilience to be the best they can be with what they are able to do.
When I think about the 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality: discipleship formation, intentional evangelism, outward focus, servant leadership, spirit-inspired worship, caring relationships, and ecclesial health, I am so proud of the pastors and the congregations in the Presbytery of the James who are demonstrating every one of these marks of congregational vitality as they continue to be the church in one of the most unusual and trying situations we have ever encountered.
Every congregation is called to use whatever gift you have been given to serve one another. That means acknowledging the gifts you have and listening for the ways God is calling you to steward those gifts. Your vitality is witnessed by your:
And most importantly, your vitality is witnessed by your faithfulness – your faithfulness to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted in your care. I encourage you in all that you do to be found faithful…in little…with much…with all.
POJ Associate for Stewardship