31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
January 21, 2018
John 1: 43-51
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Transforming the World with Christ’s Love
To work myself out of a job.
When I was newly ordained, almost twenty years ago, now, that was what Roy Oswald told a workshop of pastors our goal in ministry should be – to work ourselves out of a job.
Throughout my time as a local church pastor, Roy’s words have stayed with me, as a reminder that my job is not to do the ministry of the church, it is to nurture my congregation and beyond to fulfill their calls to ministry – ministries of leading worship with music and the Word, ministries of nurturing children and youth, ministries of visiting the sick and imprisoned, ministries of loving our neighbor.
Roy’s words profoundly influenced my ministry; however at the time, his words didn’t seem possible. Because, at the same time he was telling us to work ourselves out of a job, the word on the “church” street was that the newly ordained would never lack for positions. We were led to believe that throughout our careers, we would have our pick of churches, be sought after because there were so many churches, so many ordained positions, and so few entering the ordained ministry.
That’s what I was told as a new clergy twenty years ago. Now, new clergy are being told to think about their back-up career, in preparation for the time when all pastors will need to become bi-vocational.
When, not if, and it’s a “when” that is coming “now” for many of our sister churches.
At this moment in our Farmington Valley Association of the United Church of Christ, four of our thirteen congregations are in-between settled pastors, and none of them are searching for full-time ordained ministers.
And not because they do not want them, not because their former pastors have worked themselves out of a job and the church does not need paid staff to lead them, the decision to search for a part-time pastor is usually about money, or rather lack of it.
It’s a growing reality in the mainline Protestant church. The church facilities we built in the hey day of Christiandom, the church staffs that we hired in the hey day of Christiandom, are expensive to maintain. Some churches, like United Congregational Church in Bridgeport, decide to sell their historic buildings and focus their resources on staff to support their mission, and some churches decide to downsize their staff to focus their resources on their facilities and mission.
Unfortunately, too many churches who have made the decision to downsize their staffs, do not feel empowered or inspired by their decision. They feel like they are in decline, like they have failed because they only have one minister, when they used to have three; they only have a half-time minister when they used to have a full-time one. And they are looking at things all wrong.
We don’t have just one minister in this community. We have hundreds. Every single Christian is a minister. It’s true! You don’t have to be trained and ordained to be a minister. You don’t have to be a member of a church to be a minister. Everyone who calls themselves a Christian, everyone who follows Jesus Christ, is a minister.
We are all ministers of the church of Jesus Christ; however during the last century, when the church gained more and more members and became more and more of an institution, church members began turning over their ministries to paid ordained ministers. Christians became complacent and began to view themselves more as those to be served instead of those called to serve others.
Last week, I shared about the church’s need to reclaim our ministry of witnessing to others about Jesus’ love and light. It is also time to reclaim our Christian identities as ministers of Jesus Christ, time to reclaim our individual calls to minister in Christ’s love.
As we heard in our gospel passage from John, it is time for each one of us, as Christ’s disciples, to own that we have a mission. We have a ministry. Each one is called to reach one.
And the ways we do that will be as varied as our gifts. Some of us are called to ministries of witness, sharing in person or electronically, the difference it makes in our lives to follow Jesus. Some of us are called to ministries of service, packing backpacks or making meals for St. Vincent DePaul and Family Promise. And some of us are called to ministries of nurture, like our new Sunshine Ministry, which makes hand crafted cards for our homebound members and reaches out to those who need some sunshine in their lives.
Sometimes, though, we abdicate or even try to delegate our ministry to someone else, to someone who seems more gifted, to someone who seems better trained. Sometimes, we speak about ourselves like Nathanael spoke about Jesus. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Can anything good come out of Bristol? out of my family? Out of me?
Nathanael quickly came to see that he should not have underestimated Jesus because of where Jesus came from. And we, as children of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, should never underestimate ourselves or each other.
We each have a ministry. We are all called as ministers of Jesus Christ. From the youngest members of our community, like Bennett and Landon, to the most mature, in their nineties, we each have a ministry.
What is your ministry? How are you making a difference in our world, in the life of even just one person? How are you transforming the world with Christ’s love?
If you are not sure, if you feel like you are searching for how to make a difference in our world, the Outreach committee has shared some wonderful ways – shopping for fruits and vegetables, packing backpacks with said produce or school supplies, volunteering with Family Promise – helping to house homeless families, and even making meals for the St. Vincent DePaul homeless shelter.
And if none of these things feel like your calling, how about being a mentor with the Bristol Public Schools, collecting box tops for education, volunteering at the hospital or the Red Cross, or signing up for a service vacation, helping to clean up nature or build houses for those in need.
We each have a ministry. Each one has been called to reach one. So own your ministry. Claim your ministry. Make a difference in our world, transforming it with Christ’s love.