Holding tank to base camp

by Jennifer Woodruff-Tait

We’ve been having a thought-provoking series here recently on how to change your congregation’s system to produce a church where all the members know, and behave, as though they are sent on mission. (It was sparked by this post by A. Wayne Schwab, which you may want to keep close by for reference.)

Tents at the base camp, Susunia Hill, Bankura, West Bengal, at Basic Rock Climbing Course by MAK (Mountaineers Association of Krishnanagar)

One important piece of changing the system is the church’s leadership. Basically, the leadership needs to help determine what needs changing, redesign the ministries they lead in order to produce the change, and be accountable to someone for the change. This applies to those whose leadership we immediately think of, such as the vestry or the minister of music or the director of Christian education. But it also applies to influential people within the church even if they hold no formal position. (My father, a retired United Methodist pastor and denominational bureaucrat, likes to quip “You know why they call certain people pillars of the church? Because they hold things up.”)

Bears Bluff NFH volunteer nets a large cobia out of a temporary holding tank. Credit: USFWS Image

Whether they are official or unofficial leaders, many in church leadership are working within a paradigm where mission is seen as solely or primarily the job of paid staff. If they have a full-time priest and church staff, they expect those people to do the mission of the church; if they are (as many Episcopal parishes are) small churches who can no longer support full-time staff, they yearn for the day when they might have full-time staff again. This produces a “holding tank” church system that waits around for something to happen, instead of a base camp system equipping people to infect their communities with the love of Jesus right now.

How do we get the church leadership on board to move from holding tank to base camp? Church people have been wrestling with this question for years, and it is a question deeply intertwined with the fraught mood of our current society. We are the middle of a huge paradigm shift from church-as-business-as-usual to church-as-a-chosen-and-commissioned-way-of-life. Congregations–especially white, middle-class congregations–may feel that holding on to a priest-central model will keep them connected to their particular “good old days,” and read any change as being deeply threatening.

The important thing to remember here is that while the priest is the sacramental center of the congregation, this does not mean that he or she needs to be in the center of every ministry the Eucharist makes possible.  The Eucharist is the heart of the worshiping community, and the priest is needed to make Eucharist. But through the grace of God, that Eucharist is meant to strengthen all who worship so that they can be about the mission of God in the world. As the catechism reminds us: “The ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons” and the ministry of the laity is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be”  (BCP, p. 855).

So: whatever your place in the system, begin building trust with those around you, especially those in leadership. And once trust is built, begin raising hard questions about whether you are a base camp or a holding tank. When a church’s leadership is sold on a vision of every member in ministry, commissioned by their baptism and empowered by the Eucharist, the rest of the system will become easier to shift.

Museum or base camp?

by Wayne Schwab

What is the church’s mission and who carries it out?

An old answer: the church is a museum; its mission is to preserve Christian teaching and practice.

A popular answer today: the church is missional carrying on programs and activities that serve its community.  The members support the institution in its community service programs and activities.

missional%20livingAn answer we need: the members are the primary agents of God’s mission in today’s world to make each part of daily life more loving and more just.  The institution acts as a base camp, supporting the members in their daily missions in each part of their daily lives.

3 ministers, 1 covenant – Ministry where it matters

by Pam Tinsley

A woman I know is a minister at a public school where she is a preschool teacher. Two others, a mother and her adult daughter, are ministers at their local public high school where they coach cheerleading.

Sue*, the preschool teacher, tells me that the most important concepts she teaches her tender charges are the assurance that they are loved and respected and that they need to treat one another with love and respect. Because it is a public school, she doesn’t use church language. Nonetheless, intentionally teaching these values from our Baptismal Covenant are at the heart of who Sue is as teacher, friend, mother, wife, and citizen. She strives to instill these core Christian values in children at an early age in the hope that love and mutual respect will shape them as they grow.

Cheerleading coaches Denise* and Jennifer* mentor girls at an older, even more vulnerable age. They, too, model and teach respect and dignity – with love. All three of these women intentionally join Jesus every day where they work and volunteer.

Sue, Denise, and Jennifer were commissioned to serve in their respective ministries – their vocations – by virtue of their baptism. Baptism commissions them to proclaim the Good News by word and example in their daily lives, to seek and to serve Christ in all others – and with love. Their training for baptismal ministry came from within their church communities and began when they realized that baptism is about daily life and not limited to Sunday worship or service inside the church.

Sue, Denise, and Jennifer also freely acknowledge that their ministry at times can be challenging – especially in an environment that is all too focused on individualism. That’s why these women regularly seek out “continuing education” in their church communities, with Sunday worship and from small prayer groups and church ministries, to find support for their vital work with young people Monday through Saturday. Rather than viewing their church communities as where their ministry takes place, they understand their church communities as base camps that provision and support them for their daily treks with Christ into the secular world where they live and work – serving Christ and others.

*Not their real names.

What EBM stands for, in a nutshell

by Peyton Craighill

I belong to a “subversive” organization known as “EBM – standing for Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (the organization that sponsors this blog). Its goal is to convince all Christians that they should take their baptismal vows seriously by living them out in all their daily-life activities, Monday through Sunday.

And (this is the “subversive” part), their congregations are supposed to help them do this!

This means converting our congregations from “shelters” (protecting their members from the stormy blasts of life), into “base camps” – inspiring, directing, equipping, and supporting their members for their missions in their daily lives, wherever Christ leads them on their journeys.

The typical “shelter” congregation places their primary emphasis on “Come” to church on Sunday mornings. The “base camp” congregation primarily emphasizes “Go” out in your daily lives to serve Christ’s mission, Monday-through-Sunday.

How’s your hangover?

by Fletcher Lowe

With Christmas and the Epiphany just behind us, I have a question: What effect did the shepherds’ experience with the Christ child have on their shepherding and their home life? Ditto the wise men. What effect did their paying homage to the Christ child have on them when they returned home to their jobs and families?

We have no Biblical answers, but is that not the key question of the Christian’s life – a yours and mine: What difference does our worship make in our daily lives? What kind of Monday morning hangover do we have from our Sunday morning experience?

If the congregation is like a base camp — there to nurture and support and equip us for our hikes — then our time there should prepare us for our daily hikes in our work and home and communities. After all, the base camp exists for the hikers, the hikers don’t exist for the base camp.

As Philipp Melanchthon, a 16th century reformer friend of Martin Luther, once said, “It would be a shame to be known by where we gather and not where we scatter.”

So how is your Monday morning hangover?