The Church: It's All About Relationships
PEORIA – The church is composed of imperfect pastors and imperfect members and yet there is a desire for “The Perfect Church” and “The Perfect Pastor.”
The IGRC Cabinet, in its address June 7, noted that often what would make the church “perfect” for one makes it “imperfect” for another.
“Each church is unique as each church's setting is unique. We experience churches that are growing numerically in areas whose population are growing numerically, and they should,” said Embarras River District Superintendent Randy Reese. “We scratch our heads when some of our churches in areas of population growth are not growing or declining in worship attendance. We sometimes note churches who are maintaining their worship and Sunday School attendance while the population around them is in dramatic decline, but we may not be giving you the credit you deserve.”
But one thing that is alarming is that the church has trouble finding its role in a changing community landscape.
“There are now areas in our districts where one can drive down a state highway through three or four named communities for more than a half hour and not pass a place to buy gasoline, a machine to buy a beverage, a restaurant to share a cup of coffee, or (sometimes most importantly) a restroom,” Reese said. “I celebrate a church in one of those communities who recognized the need for the community to gather enough to open their doors for free coffee and conversation every Tuesday morning. Recently, I met with a SPRC who told me that in their community of more than 400 people that their only place to meet for coffee was Casey's General Store. Friends, most of your communities need your church more now than before.”
Often times, the response is that we just need “the perfect pastor,” but as the Cabinet noted, “perfect is defined as the right instrument or tool for the task.”
The Cabinet offered the following attributes of the perfect pastor, noting how the demands run at cross purposes:
- Regularly condemns sin soundly but never hurts anyone's feelings.
- Available from 8 a.m. until midnight but is well rested, exercises regularly and available to referee our ball games as well as assist the church janitor.
- Always has time for church council and all of its committees and yet is home every night with family.
- Wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and tithes; yet parsonage children qualify for free lunches on minimum salary.
- 29 years old with 40 years experience.
- Never gets in our business yet, mysteriously, knows when somebody is sick and needs visitation.
- Before and after services, never fails to speak to each person present yet always on time for all three services.
- Has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and yet spends most of their time with the senior citizens.
- Makes five home visits a day and is always in church office to be handy when needed.
- Takes family vacations but is always available to take your call and meet your needs. And oh yes – has a perfect spouse who teaches Sunday School, leads the United Methodist Women, plays the piano, and children that are always present but never heard from!
“What about the perfect church?” asked Reese. “What kind of profile would you give it?”
- One in which all bills were paid but there are financial crises regularly because of seeing other’s needs.
- One in which everyone is welcomed no matter how they look, smell, or what family they are from.
- One in which folks do all the good they can, do no harm and stay in love with God.
Reese said the most often requested attribute requested by both staff-parish relations committees and pastors on self-assessments is “more training in conflict management.”
“This request for conflict management expertise reveals the most basic need in God's church that will enable the church to meet the greatest needs of the people ‘out there,’” Reese said. “It is about relationships. It is not about not having conflict, but about whether we allow God to lead us through conflict and care for each other while we disagree in love.
“Friends, we need healthy relationships. Living relationship with Christ, the head of our church. Living relationships with one another to be the taste of heaven for all who will come into our midst. And living relationships with the people Jesus sought out to save while He dwelt in our world,” he said.