Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Losing the Big Picture

I am new to this ministry thing, so bear with me.

I suppose an introduction is in order. I was commissioned a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church at the annual conference session of the North Georgia Annual Conference in June. That commission, for the uninitiated, means I am a Rev., but I am not done with the ordination process in the UMC. It is a long road, and I have come far, but there are miles to go before I sleep.

I am serving as an associate at a large United Methodist church in north Fulton County, GA, in a suburb of Atlanta called Johns Creek. My wife, who is also a minister (and who was commissioned with me this past June) is also serving as an associate at the same church. It makes dinner conversation interesting, and I do love having a partner in crime.

My portfolio includes several groups, but my main task is mission and outreach, which at Johns Creek UMC means building a mission trip program and getting folks fired up about mission. I do have a little background in this; I worked for three years at United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, the short-term, mission-sending agency of the UMC, and I wrote the manual that is used to train mission team leaders in United Methodist churches in the southeast. So this charge is nothing new.

What is new, though, and what I am finding to be my biggest struggle in ministry, is the fact that my day usually consists of eight thousand very specific tasks, many administrative, and it tends to be that you could probably divide my day up into five and ten minute increments, with a staff meeting or two thrown in for good measure.

There are days when I feel as if I am drowning in details, and details are important. I have seen those ministers who ignore details, who walk, bumbling, into a church and knock over the altar candles and the altar guild--and just about everybody else, to boot--because they ignore the details of ministry. So for as much as I am doing my best to hold on to the big picture, I also want to make sure I do not lose sight of the details--God works within the details, too.

But It is hard to hold on to the big picture when you do something new every five minutes, and in ministry, the big picture is actually the Big Picture, so you can't just ignore it and move on. I suppose that in some ways, the Big Picture is something like the floor: you go along not noticing it until it is gone, and then you've really got nowhere to go.

So this is my attempt to both be reflective about being a millennial in ministry (I am twenty-seven) and to hang on to the Big Picture.

I find myself in the church at an interesting time. The United Methodist Church in the United States is losing members, even as it is growing in Africa. There are those who claim wayward theology as the reason for decline, and while I believe theology is vital to knowing who we are as people of faith, I am not ready to blame this loss of members on the church's theological stances.

The church is graying, as well. The median age of United Methodist Elders stands at 55, the highest in history. Half of elders are between 55 and 72. While the number of young clergy has grown marginally in the last ten years, we remain a very small percentage of the overall United Methodist clergy. And the church's demographics mirror those of the clergy.

It is an interesting time to be a young clergy person, but--if you will pardon the cliche--I am convinced we stand at a crossroad as a church. God is doing something new, and I am excited to see what that looks like.

There are exciting things happening in the church, and I am determined not to so drown in the details that I miss what God is doing. This is my attempt to keep an eye on that Big Picture.

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