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A Ministry of Ending

Would we close? Or could we keep going? 

It was the question that occupied my mind as I drove to meet with a denominational leader about my congregation. And it was the question that came at me from every side as I began my ministry as a solo pastor of an urban congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, just a month after my graduation from seminary. Though I had led a congregation to a merger as a student pastor, I still wasn’t equipped to answer this question. Nobody had mentioned the financial strain, the community members’ fatigue, and the denominational push-pull the congregation had been through for the years preceding my arrival. 

It had taken months for me to land this face-to-face meeting with the one person in my denominational structure with the authority to decide my congregation’s fate. 

Would we close? Or could we keep going? Read more

What’s a clergy group to do?

In a clergy group, I’m looking for the unafraid—the folks in ministry who see the turbulent journey ahead as one full of opportunity and excitement for the church, even amid real challenges.

I have a friend, also a pastor. She wants to start a clergywomen group, wants to know what I’d like to get out of a thing like that. We both belong to other groups—with and without men—and we discuss that we’re not sure what we’re meant to get out of those groups, either. We like them—but we can’t tell if they’re for conversation and prayer, hivemind troubleshooting, networking, collaborating, or some hybrid of all of the above.

Of course, all of this prompts the question: What am I looking for in a clergy group? Am I looking for camaraderie—for colleagues in what can otherwise be a solitary calling? Am I looking for wisdom, for the experience and insights only a more seasoned pastor could offer? Or maybe the freedom to be female, and a few cautionary tales from other female pastors who’ve gone before me?

When I try to conjure an ideal, for some reason, my thoughts keep circling back to famous bands of writers or artists who produced in unison and shared an artistic legacy. I think of the Beatniks, Lost Generation, Algonquin Round Table. I also think of Silicon Valley incubators. I think of groups better than the sum of their parts, groups that foster innovation and usher in real breakthroughs.

Ministry in the twenty-first century isn’t for the faint-of-heart, we know. Here on the West Coast, where I live, we can’t take anything for granted. Old models of ministry seem to be failing fastest out here. I am constantly confronted by the very real limits of what I was taught in seminary. Most recently, in conceptualizing the shift happening, I’ve been guided by the thoughts of Alan Roxburgh, author, pastor-theologian, and fellow Pacific Northwesterner, particularly his suggestion that it’s inaccurate and complacent to cling to a narrative about it being the church’s season to grieve. The time for grief is over for most of us, Roxburgh declares, and the way forward looks like faithful, communal discernment.

In his book Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World, that discernment happens in congregations. But it will also happen outside of them. I’m hoping it will happen in clergy groups. Read more