My Sundays are now way different than they have been for the past almost three decades. As a pastor of a specific church, I had the blessing of really getting to know the people in my church. Every Sunday I had the opportunity to worship with the same church family. People knew me by name, and I knew their name. I was very familiar with the challenges of ministry in my church setting. Over a twenty-nine year span I have served ten churches (this includes a two-point charge, and a three-point charge) in three different states (Texas, Alaska, and Arizona). In most of my churches Sundays included leading worship services—and preaching—in multiple services. I don’t know the specific number of sermons that I have preached, but the number is in the thousands.
As a Missional Strategist & Superintendent, I now have twenty-nine churches that I have the opportunity to get to know at one time. So far, I have been at a different church every Sunday. Sometimes I’m at more than one church on a Sunday. Usually my role is not to preach and lead the worship service. There are times, though, like last Sunday where I preached at two different churches because their pastor was in the hospital. My main goal at this time is to get to know the churches in the South District. I’m very aware that the churches are not the buildings, but are the people who gather together in the name of Christ.
What I am finding is that we have amazing people in the South District of the United Methodist Church who are doing incredible ministries. I get to watch our churches in action more from the edge of ministry instead of being at the center. I now have the chance to sit in the pews (I admit, rarely the front pew) and experience worship from a different vantage point. At this time, very few people know who I am when I enter the churches. Slowly I’m getting to know more people, though it takes a long time when I don’t get to see them on a frequent basis.
I’m finding that most of our church families know each other well, though it appears to me that this is often limited to the service that is attended. Churches with multiple services have a greater challenge in helping their church family to know one another. Sometimes people look at me with amazement when I suggest that they occasionally worship in another service so that they can meet more people. I can almost read their minds thinking “Where will we sit?”. I have been told before that it would mess up their routine for getting something to eat. So if that suggestion is shocking, hold onto your hats! What if we occasionally visit other United Methodist Churches?
I understand that pastors rarely have the luxury of visiting other churches. We are usually busy at our own church on Sundays. What could happen, though, if we intentionally send church members to occasionally visit other churches? My immediate thought is that it would be a huge reminder of what it is like to be a visitor. We become so use to being part of the “in” group on Sundays that we can forget how scary it can be to be out of our element. This might re-sensitize us to those who are visiting our churches.
There are all kinds of other benefits that I can see that could come from this practice. We might get some great ideas from other United Methodists. We could start knowing one another across church lines. We could encourage churches that are feeling discouraged. We could identify ways that we could work together. We might become more aware of the struggles of other United Methodist churches. We even might find that we are family and that we love one another!
Your brother on the journey, Mark