Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I'm in Richmond, Virgina this week. The last few months have brought me to several places I would not have expected when I first entered this season of seminary. This is definitely one of them. I'm here with Rosario and John from the church to learn about church planting. When you ask me why I came to seminary, church planting isn't anywhere in my answer. Yet when I look back and play connect-the-dots with my formational spiritual experiences, maybe its not out of the trajectory at all.

This is a two-and-a-half day seminar hosted by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, and it's led by Jim Griffith. To be honest, I was skeptical going into the whole thing. While the day wasn't perfect, I was given plenty to think about. There are about 25-30 people there from Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts and Kentucky. I was surprised to find that the three of us from The Rock were the youngest in the room by far. Nearly half of the participants are middle-aged women.

We began the day talking about the 10 most common mistakes that new start pastors make. I really appreciated the first one: Pursuing the Great Commission to the peril of ignoring the greatest commandment. Makes me think about 1 Corinthians 13 and how if it's not about love, it's pretty much a waste of time. We are about loving God and loving the people next door, whoever they may be.

I also appreciated that the second session was all about self-care. That's been a big topic we've had for the RA staff at school this year, and I found a lot the stuff we've talked about coming up here today. He never explicitly called it "Sabbath", but he did trumpet the idea that you can't model the peace and presence and life of God to people when you're frantically working 60-80 hours a week doing church stuff and answering the phone every time it rings. A shepherd of people must take care of himself or herself, and to a certain degree, be selfish about it.

Another session dealt with intercessory prayer and the supreme importance of having a small group of intimate friends consistently praying. Prayer plows the road, he said. The thing that I walk away with today that was a new thought was that the vision, values and mission, while very important, are overrated. In his experience, he shared, across the denominational lines, these are all generally the same in every church. The mission is God's mission: to seek and save the lost, to join in God's redemptive work in the world. No need to reinvent the wheel there or dress that up. Values always revolve around worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, stewardship and the priesthood of believers. The rest comes down to how a community specifically embodies those values. If you don't, they're just "want to be" statements, and gets called a "vision" is really just a fantasy. A vision comes not from brainstorming on a piece of paper, but rather from opening Scripture in the presence of God.

There was some talk about how one's "mission field" determines the methods which then inform the essential ministries of the church. And the later sessions had us brainstorming in our groups about describing our "mission fields" - who lives there, religious heritage, socioeconomic background, cultural idiosyncrasies, etc. John, Rosario and I blankly stared at each other: "Yeah, we already do this."

The day gave us a mixed bag of stuff to talk about and process while we drove around downtown Richmond for what felt like forever looking for a place to eat some dinner. I'm sure tomorrow will as well.

posted by Peter at 12:11 AM
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