It is apt that Scripture speaks of the church as the body of Christ. Like a body, we understand the church to be composed of many parts with many functions. Like a body, we understand that church has needs that must be met if the church is to remain healthy. Like a body, the church has a purpose and thrives when properly exercised and applied toward those things for which it was meant. And also like a body, the church is born, grows, and changes. The church, like a living thing, has a life cycle. While there are limits to this analogy, understanding the church as a living thing should keep us mindful that birth, growth, and change are normal experiences for the church. Good Shepherd is blessed to be a healthy and vital church, and to be a church that is on the cusp of potentially significant growth. Yet it is important to understand that with that blessing comes a challenge.
Church growth experts would tell us that Good Shepherd is at a transitional point in its life cycle. In terms of our current average worship attendance, Good Shepherd has grown beyond what is called in the church literature a Pastoral Church, but has not reached the size, organizational structure and full functioning of a Program Church. Operating in between those two types of church, we are currently living with two sets of cultures and expectations. A Pastoral Church culture places the minister at the center of community life. The minister is expected to be involved in all decisions, attend all events, and personally handle all pastoral calls. Delegated lay leadership and programs are not expected features of the Pastoral Church but they define the Program Church. In the former, decision making and management of decisions happens at the vestry level while in the latter vestries are visioning bodies who set the course for the direction of the church and who help ministry heads develop strategies for reaching that vision. In the former, it is the minister and relationship with the minister that matter most while in the latter it is the quality and diversity of programs that bring people together that matters.
The transition between the two kinds is the most challenging place for a church to be and is the environment that can most quickly burn out leadership. Most churches do not successfully grow from Pastoral to Program because it is a painful process for both the laity and the clergy. Growth may mean that the church will no longer be a place where everyone knows who you are. Growth may mean losing personal access to the minister. Growth may mean that a ministry dear to your heart will no longer receive the same attention as before. In this kind of culturally conflicted church environment, people may become unhappy and leave. Consequently, transitional churches rarely make the transition and typically regress back toward a Pastoral sized church. This is the challenge of the blessing we now hold.
Your vestry and I are committed to honoring that blessing and seeing Good Shepherd through the transition. We invite your participation. Let us be a church where all members are Christ’s ministers set out to build the church. We invite your encouragement. Stay connected with each other and reconnect with a friend who you have not seen recently at church. Ask what you can do to serve them and invite them to come and see the good things happening here. We invite your prayers. Let us all give thanks for the many blessings we share as members of this parish. There is much to commend about holding an attitude of gratitude. And now we pray, “God make your name hallowed in this place, your will be done in and through us, allow us the blessing of participating in the building of your Kingdom.”