So Long, Farewell…

by | Dec 21, 2021 | Reflections Blog

So many thoughts. How shall I say goodbye?

Perhaps like this: a collection of tidbits, any of which might make a whole column in itself. At best, you can think of them as something like Luther’s Theses. Or maybe they’ll be more like Buddhist koans, and I’ll leave you scratching your heads.


On managing ministry in days of pandemic, racial reckoning, economic uncertainty, and social upheaval:

  1. Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.
  2. (And not just the people you feel most comfortable with.)
  3. The best way to prevent burnout is not “self-care.” It is to surround ourselves with a “bubble of love”—a group of people to whom we can go when things get overwhelming. See #1.
  4. The best way to exercise “self-care”is by way of “other care.” See this, and #1.
  5. Nevertheless—regularly stopping work is critical. See the Fourth Commandment.

Photo by Gary Mills


On our present moment:

  1. Perhaps this is the season of the birth pangs. But if it is…is the Church the mother, the midwife, or the baby? Or are we the 1950’s-style father who helplessly paces in the waiting room, cigarette in hand?
  2. Previously working systems…some are still working. It’s very easy to see which ones aren’t.
  3. Education is still valuable. “Educationalism” has failed. The problem in our world is not one of ignorance.
  4. We are in a Babel moment. The answer to Babel was not mutual civility, let alone ESL classes. It was Pentecost.
  5. The hope of American Christians is not in America. The house built on the rock will stand.
  6. Fear not. (See Psalm 37:8).

On the future of churches, pastors, and service in PLR:

  1. You are making ministry happen, even in the midst of the pandemic. All the new installations bear witness to that.
  2. The future of ordained ministry will be older, browner, and less male. Look at the installations of new pastors over the last year. What will it look like to celebrate the change rather than bemoan the losses?
  3. Presbytery leadership is increasingly volunteer-driven. Liaisons from committees, task forces to address multi-disciplinary realities, and specialists who bring their knowledge to bear for the good of the whole—all of these make for powerful service to the congregations.
  4. (Regarding #3: I have seen those who have worked hard, faithfully, and without ulterior motives. I am grateful for you and for your demonstrated love for the Body of Christ. You have worked in difficult and sometimes unpleasant ground, but you have also reaped the joy of restored communities.)

Photo by Jason Ko

On aging churches: 

  1. The salvation of aging churches is not in attracting young people. Salvation is in Christ.
  2. The world around us has a steady supply of fresh senior citizens—people often in good health, with more free time, who are thinking seriously about eternity and want to do more than just play golf. What would it look like to focus serious energy on reaching out to them? See #16.
  3. For the last 100 years, corporate thinking has pervaded our churches—budgets, legal papers, articles of incorporation.[i]How might the presbytery handle such details on behalf of a post-chartered fellowship? How might that fellowship continue to worship and service without a professional pastor (also an aspect of corporate thinking)?
  4. Some of our churches are shrinking and aging beyond a point of no return. They will die. How we respond to their dying matters.
  5. For people whose faith life is tied up in a church that is dying, letting go is hard. Guiding them to let go is far more beneficial than forcing their hand.

On miscellaneous thoughts: 

  1. Think about the Presbytery’s engagement like a doctor’s visit. Don’t wait too long before seeking a consultation. The earlier you check in, the more ways the presbytery can work with your congregation for its good.
  2. Any difficult decision means that someonewill leave your church. This is true regardless of which choice you make. For every person who threatens to leave if you choose X, there is a quiet person who will leave if you choose not-X. Follow the Spirit of Christ.
  3. Rules must never be for their own sakes. Good rules, wisely applied, help the body heal what is out of joint (see Hebrews 12:12-13).

[i] With thanks to Frank Spencer, President of the Board of Pensions, for this insight.