Parenting a Congregation

It’s been a long time since I gave birth.  I can hardly believe that my little girl is a high school senior already.  She is growing up.  No matter how much I’d like to make time stop and her growth stand still, if even for a moment, I cannot.  I can only watch, guide, offer advise, care, and allow myself to be mystified at the gracious work of God’s creation taking shape in her.  One thing that was made clear to me even before she was born is that she is not MY child, she is GOD’s child.  In fact, I think the best counseling I can offer her as she prepares for SAT’s, college admissions, choosing a major, and the rest of her senior year activities, is to remember that she is not even HER OWN child, she is GOD’s child.  Christ has something he wants to do through her wherever she finds herself … and living into that Christ-like being for herself will not only be a blessing for her, but for her community, her family, and her circle of friends.  I believe that with every ounce of my being.  Yet, like many well-meaning parents, I find myself trying to orchestrate her life to fit my interests and my desires for her.  Like I know best.  Why is it so hard for me to trust God enough to let go of my best dreams for her, and allow God’s dream to take root?

Leading a church is a lot like parenting a child; so often we, as pastors and elders, seem to know exactly what is best for the church – the right kind of music, the right programs, the right building, the right location, the right leadership, etc.  We mean well, but like the parent who will only pay for his son to attend college if he majors in medicine or law, we confuse our own desires with God’s desires, our own best wishes with God’s best wishes.  Sure, I have dreams for my daughter.  I’d like her to take a year off and study abroad, I’d like her to major in something “profitable”.  But no matter how sure I am, I can never be certain that these are right for her at this time.  God could have a much better plan that is not yet revealed to me or her.  When I am at my best, though, I can see my misguided-expectations and set them aside, and I can see God doing something brand new in her.  When I look to see what God is up to in her, I am amazed by the wonder and richness and beauty of it all.

I am also able to, now and then, set aside my misguided-expectations for the church and look – just look – at what God is up to.   I’m seeing more churches drawn to multi-cultural ministry; I’m seeing a desire to learn to be more missional in our communities; I’m seeing some congregations wondering together about working together in common mission – both ecumenically as well as within our denomination; I’m seeing new churches being conceived; I’m seeing people pray fervently; I’m seeing lives being changed.  When we let go and trust God … miracles happen.

When I ask God to let me see clearly, though, I am also disheartened as I see churches who want to cling to a past more than embrace a future; who want to follow prescriptive programs instead of pray for God’s discernment; who want to preserve buildings rather than give birth to new congregations; who want to hold on to what they have, rather than allow the Church to grow as God wills it into a vibrant, healthy, joyful, and mature congregations.

When we give birth, it’s clear we are not the ones who create that life; we are only the ones chosen to nurture, care, and allow that baby to spring forth into the wonderful human being God had in mind.  When we birth a church, we don’t create it in our image, but we allow God to use the richness and blessing of our DNA to create something new – something that may resemble us, but not look like us, that may share some personality quirks with us, but which will reach out in it’s own way to be the mature congregation God has willed it to be.  And as we raise a congregation through adolescence and even adulthood and middle-age – we need to remember: it’s not about us, it’s about God revealing a miraculous truth in and through us.

printed in the September edition of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant