What does it mean to be serving as the hands and feet of Christ?
Recently, I had a conversation with a pastor about Transition Ministries. He was going through a difficult time at his church. In facing budgetary issues, the church council had decided to significantly cut the pastor’s salary.
Anxiety and anger began to creep into his voice as he haltingly explained what he felt was a desperate situation.
Disheartened and discouraged, he was wondering if there was a place for him in Transition Ministries. To me, what he was really asking was, “Is there was a place for me in any ministry anywhere?”
The church—it seemed—wanted someone who would grow the church, bring in new people and attract younger people. They wanted someone who could lead more effectively, preach better, evangelize more energetically and sing. Understated, they didn’t want an old minister. Overstated, they didn’t want him.
Around that time I was working with a church who had contacted Transition Ministries. Their pastor had resigned unexpectedly. They were left feeling betrayed and bewildered. “What do we do? What do we do?” they anguished. Is there a pastor who would love this dying, dwindling but still determined congregation? Is there someone who would want to pastor them?
In their confusion and concern, they turned to a resource that had supported them in the past. Transition Ministries ABCUSA had sustained them in the past as they contemplated their future.
Upon reflecting on the needs and the gifts of those in our network, I suggested several possibilities.
The church met with each of the candidates and mulled over responses and reflection notes. After praying and passionately seeking God’s will, they decided on a pastor to call as their Interim.
With nowhere to go and nearing the last week of his severance pay, the call that came was a call from God. The anxious and immobilized cry of “What do we do?” from pastor and parish became in God’s great reversal a resurrecting rail leading to new possibilities, a movement from hand wringing “What do we do? What do we do?” to “What do we do next?” This was a movement from an inward focus on church as the mission to an outward focus on mission as church, with the church being the vehicle, or transformer, joining God in mission and moving into a new future.
As Archbishop Rowan Williams so aptly puts it, “It is not the Church of God that has a mission, but the Mission of God that has a Church.”
Serving as the hands and feet of Christ, moving with God in mission and holding the hands of a pastor in pain; holding out hope to a church in demise, walking with a pastor wrestling with the end of his ministry and venturing with an old church to a new land—one thing I know for sure is that this pastor and this church are each moving forward with renewed hope and hearts held high, all because of a denomination that serves, a ministry program that connects, and people who care.
We serve as the hands and feet of Christ when we are able to respond to the needs of God’s churches with the gifts of God’s pastors.
This is not just good stewardship and good news; this is GREAT stewardship and GREAT news. This is reinforced for me as I think about how we strive to live out our ABCUSA Focus Statement:
American Baptist Churches are healthy missional churches that nurture devoted disciples of Jesus Christ who live their lives in mission and ministry for the healing of the world through the love of God.