United Church of Christ
2011 – End of Year Report to the Churches
Early in December I attended the installation of a bright, young pastor here in the Iowa Conference (by God’s grace we now have several of this most rare of species here in Iowa!). The preacher (our own Associate Conference Minister Jonna Jensen) powerfully and persuasively made the case that ministry is not about the minister.
Certainly she is right, and by simple analogy most of us would affirm that conference ministry isn’t about the conference staff. Many would knowingly nod and think (or say right out loud), “It’s about time those people in the conference office got clear about this.” In fact, I think we ARE clear about this: Conference ministry – just like local church ministry – isn’t about us. But getting clear about what ministry isn’t is never quite the same as being clear about what it IS!
When I say (as I have, from time to time), “This ministry is about the churches!” – I may inadvertently leave the door open to a different distortion of the truth. Truth be known, the ministry to which my staff and I have been called isn’t fundamentally about either the clergy OR the churches. The ministry to which we’ve (and you’ve!) been called is about Jesus and those he’s called us to serve on his behalf. At times, of course, those we’re called to serve on behalf of Jesus are people in our churches, but far too often, I fear, we focus inordinately on the church itself and miss certain clear and unmistakable aspects of our Lord’s teaching. For example, we miss the assertion that he (and therefore those of us doing his bidding) hasn’t been called to the healthy, but to the sick. Obviously this includes the physically sick, but more generally it includes all who are life-weary and discouraged and maybe cynical – who wonder if life has any real meaning and purpose – who are tempted to give up – or just give in to the cultural temptations to make life all about material and pleasure and self.
Most of you know the traditional work of the conference staff – we support search and call when a church needs a pastor. We provide support and growth opportunities so those pastors can be leaders of transformation. We attend to the formation of new leaders so that the church will continue to have access to leaders firmly grounded in faith and sufficiently skilled to function in a day of dizzying change. We provide resources and training for those who work with young people. But none of this work represents an end in itself. So far as I can tell, God doesn’t much care if every church has a pastor – what God seems to care about is whether churches are tending to the lost and dispossessed and marginalized in every part of our society. If having a good pastor helps us be better at that work, then bring on a good pastor, but just because every church had a pastor wouldn’t mean we were necessarily doing the work of God as God would like to see it done.
You – and your church – have a calling from God to share the Good News in ways meaningful and relevant to your places of life and work. We are entrusted by God with a message that resonates with challenge to the status quo and dares to embrace many who are otherwise excluded. The staff of the Iowa Conference aims to be your servant in helping you to be servants to those looking for hope and meaning and life.
Your church’s generous financial support of the Iowa Conference through OCWM (Our Church’s Wider Mission) or through your own individual generosity makes this work of ministry empowerment possible. Thank you for your partnership! Should you have questions or ideas for our common work, please do not hesitate to be in touch.
God bless you and may God empower the work of your church – not just for yourselves – but for those who’ve yet to experience the hope of the Gospel.
Iowa Conference Minister