Thursday, February 14, 2013

Supt. Beckett Visits Girdwood Chapel

Superintendent Dave Beckett spent time with us last Sunday (3/10/13) at Girdwood Chapel.  He met with us after the 10 a.m. service to discuss the recent gift of property to our chapel.  The chapel leadership and Supt. Beckett agree that the money we receive from the sale of the property will go entirely to paying down the personal notes we hold.

Supt. Beckett chats with Girdwood Chapel kids
during "Children's Time"
He also delivered an important message to us at both services.   His message was appropriate not only for the start of the Lenten season, but for our church as we continue to "transition" from one pastor to another.  

In case you missed it, here are some key parts of his message to us:

Purpose-Centered or Preference-Driven Church? 
Colossians 2:16-3:4 
David Beckett, D.Min. 

"Last winter I was in a cabinet meeting with our bishop and the superintendents of the Pacific Northwest Conference in Seattle. They are very gracious to include me whenever I can get there. It can get a bit lonely being a cabinet of one here in Alaska. 

We spent the better part of a day listening to a presentation by Rev. Doug Anderson about why the United Methodist Church is in decline. What he said at the very beginning grabbed me. He said only 10% of United Methodist churches are growing in size. That means that 90% are either on a plateau or in decline. Why?

Then he offered this answer. Every congregation is somewhere on this continuum. On one side is PURPOSE-CENTERED. On the other is PREFERENCE-DRIVEN. Take a guess as to which side are the growing churches? The PURPOSE-CENTERED side. The converse is true. Declining churches are on the PREFERENCE-DRIVEN SIDE. 

It would appear that when a church loses sight of its purpose, its mission, and pays a lot of attention to the preferences of its people, that it is destined to decline. Membership and worship attendance in our 29 Alaska United Methodist churches is trending downward so I am very interested in this issue. If there is a correlation between decline and a slide from purpose to preference, then we should face this reality and do something about it. 

Our actions to reverse this trend should not be done purely out of institutional survival. Rather, what we do in Church needs to be motivated more by our purpose to reach others than the preferences of our members.
I have met with several Alaska Staff Parish Relations Committees about the appointment of a new pastor. I said to each of them, “Don’t tell me what your congregation wants in a new pastor. Tell me what you need to help you reach your mission to grow disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.” 

So let’s talk a bit about what it means to focus on our purpose as a church of Christ. What does a purpose-centered church look like? The amazing thing is that many Christian leaders from a variety of denominations agree on the answer to this question. 

The answer is not about developing new and better programs. It’s not about trying to attract new people. It’s not even about getting more people at our services. A purpose-centered church is about developing spiritual leaders. It is about developing leaders who believe passionately that the mission of God is more important than their own comfort or preferences when it comes to just about anything done in the life of the church.

Let me go from preaching to meddling and make this personal. Where are you individually on the continuum between purpose and preference when it comes to your spiritual journey? When have you placed more emphasis on what will make you comfortable than what will help you grow as a disciple of Jesus?

I know I have. Many years ago after I had served as pastor of St. John for a year or two the bishop sat me down and asked how it was going. The first word out of my mouth and one I immediately regretted was, “Comfortable.” What was I thinking? That my goal is serving as pastor was their comfort and my comfort?

The United Methodist Church was the fastest growing Protestant church in America in the 19th century. Today there are still more UM churches than post offices, although both of these institutions are declining. Why did we grow so quickly? It was our purpose. The mission of our church back then was crystal clear: "to spread scriptural holiness across the land.” 

It was a great mission statement. But something changed along the way. The problem was that the mission shifted from spiritual transformation of peoples’ lives to geography! Wherever people lived without this life-giving gospel became our focus. We experienced a subtle shift from people to places. So we planted churches where there were no churches. 

And what do you think happened when we ran out of real estate? The United Methodist Church started to decline in the late 1800’s mostly due to the fact that we lost sight of our original purpose. What tends to stop leaders from focusing on their mission is their own preferences.

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God’s mission in the world can move forward with passion and new energy. It will take people who are willing to focus less on rules and more on purpose. It will take people who are willing to give up some of their cherished preferences to create new places for new people to walk with Christ.... May God help us to pay attention to what really matters."