01 October 2008

Asking the Wrong Question

Over the past few weeks I have really been struggling with being content at the rate of change happening around University. I have beat myself up over the fact that attendance is up, positive energy is up, attitudes are up, but giving is still lagging behind.

Over the course of these past weeks I have had several conversations where I bounced my frustration and/or confusion off of colleagues. Each time a helpful image rose up from that conversation. The first was the image of a crock pot. The second was the image of an aircraft carrier. Those images helped me to see that change - whether cooked food or turning several thousand tons of steel - takes a long time. I think I will reflect more on both of those images in some later posts.

Then today I was reading Brian McLaren's book, A New Kind of Christian, and he had this to say in the introduction:
When you're on a really long voyage, you have to get beyond asking, "Are we there yet?" and instead start asking, "Are we making progress?" ... The fact is, whatever a new kind of Christian will be, no one is one yet. At this point, we're more like caterpillars cocooning than butterflies in flight. But every transformation has to start somewhere. The sooner we start, the better. (xviii, emphasis mine)
Needless to say, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that I have been asking the wrong question of my congregation. I have been making them answer, "Are we there yet?" when I should have been helping them answer, "Are we making progress?" I literally sat stunned for a few moments before reading on.

When I came to I realized that in order for me to maintain my sanity in leading this church revitalization effort, I need to start asking the right questions - questions that will help the church move the ball down the field, questions that will keep the congregation motivated when things move slowly, questions that will help us mark the progress we are making instead of wallowing in the fact that we aren't "there" yet.

Are we making progress?


Sam K. Kenshalo said...

I am a former longtime member of University (33 years) and served on Staff for many years as Director Of Youth Ministries. I know that you have made an impact on the congrgeation in your short time there as I still have many close friends there and am aware of the happenings in the church. However, unfortunately you are beginning to feel some of the frustration that I and my family felt before we decided that God wanted us to nourish our faith and serve him through another Methodist Congregation here in WF. Univeristy still holds a very special place in my heart, but it was clear that many in the the congregation wished to, in the short-term, "feel good" in talking the talk (ie. The Gathering, etc.), but did not truly want make a long-term committment in walking the walk in all areas of Christian servanthood, doing whatever was necessary to create programs and Ministries that would go outside the four walls of the church and share God's love with our our community and world. There were brief spurts of programming and events, but the long-term financial and personal committment over the long haul was never there to help make University reach the enormous potential it had and has, especially since it is located across from MSU and in the heart of the City. As you are aware, the church endured 5-6 years of pastoral leadership that did not "mesh" well with the congregation and has set it back several years. Unfortunately, I and the Youth Ministry was caught in the cross-fire of some less-than-desirable Pastoral Leadership, that was a small part of a larger picture that started the church on a downward spiral. I can honestly say that the church has never been the same since the loss of your former Superintendent, Dr. Larry George. I wholeheartedly beleive that the church can come back, in time, with the right Pastoral leadership. I am good firends with Rev. George and he has tremendous confidence in you and that you are the answer for the church in beginning it's recovery. However, please be aware (I am sure that you are already aware of this) that the pain and hurt is deep in this congregation with the members that remain and those that have moved on. Time heals all wounds and time will heal that church. I just wanted you tho know that you and UUMC continue to be in my prayers as you continue to lead them in healing and helping them move forward again. May God richly bless you and UUMC always.

Rev_DeanL said...

First of all, thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I hope it is beneficial for you.

I am sorry that your family is no longer part of University and I am glad that you have found a new church home to pour your time and resources into.

However, I believe you misunderstood the point I was trying to make with this post. I am not frustrated with the church for being slow to change. I am frustrated with myself for "asking the wrong question" about why the church was slow in changing.

I truly believe that the people called University UMC want to serve God with all that they have and all that they are. In order to do that, a paradigm shift must occur within our thinking about how we accomplish that mission.

That paradigm shift, by its very nature, takes time. Therefore, I must be willing to cheerlead the change that is already occurring (as you pointed out in your comment) in order for it to continue.

Honestly, I am not interested in dwelling on the past. I do want to learn from it, but I don't want to stew over what any of the previous pastors may or may not have done correctly. I respect my colleagues enough to know that no pastor is perfect - including me - and I will only lead this church for a season.

Thanks for your prayers!

Sam K. Kenshalo said...


Thank you for taking time to respond and for your explanation as it helps me better understand your post.

I also truly believe with all my heart that the family of faith at UUMC wants to serve God with all that they have and all that they are. And I agree that a shift in thinking and a change in culture will have to occur for the church to move forward in the coming days and years. As I have shared with my close friend, DeWayne Robertson (he and Pam Ayres helped me with the Youth Minsitry all of those years - they are like a brother and sister that I never had), I believe that a "new University" will evolve, one that hopefully reach it's full potential.

Again, I applaud your efforts in nurturing this congregation back to health - the fruits of your labor are beginning to show and be heard. This does truly warm my soul because as I previously shared with you, University will always have a piece of my soul.

Thanks again and take care.

Rev_DeanL said...

Glad I could help. Let's both keep praying for University UMC!