Partnership and Covenant with Liberia

We’ve been celebrating our connection with Liberia lately.  As you are perhaps aware, the Detroit Conference has had a long standing partnership and covenant with Liberia.  And as we begin this new thing as the Michigan Annual Conference soon, we are seeking to invite churches and individuals from our side of the state to engage with this important ministry as well.

We, on the Grand Rapids District, have had a head start on this endeavor as we have connected with the Lofa River District of Liberia and just a week and a half ago completed our effort to get Superintendent Cecilia Mapleh a truck to enable more effective ministry on her district (click HERE to read the story and see recent photos!)

Last night Bishop Quire, the newly elected Bishop of the Liberian Annual Conference, was here on our District sharing about both his vision for and the needs of his country and the church.  He also shared great appreciation for the truck!

After Bishop Quire shared for a bit we asked questions and one of the questions was what are the primary needs of the people in Liberia?  The Bishop’s response was telling, “Well” he said, “I hesitate to give you the whole grocery list!”  Friends, there is indeed a grocery list!  I listened to stories about parts of Liberia where the church has begun orphanages for children whose parents died during the Ebola crisis.  As the Bishop shared about the lack of schools, medical care, clean water and other needs in many rural areas of the country and the fact that due to the years of civil war there is at least a generation that has very little if any education.  As he spoke about his vision of building up the agriculture abilities especially with the amount of land that the church owns.  As he lifted up the challenges and the commitment of the Pastors and Superintendents who walk miles to serve their churches and people and who experience and embrace extraordinary sacrifices to do it.

As I listened to all that he shared, I thought about some of the things that had taken my attention and energy during the earlier parts of the day. I thought about some of the things that had annoyed me or caused me some level of stress.  And while those things are real and a part of my life and yours as I laid them alongside some of the things Bishop Quire shared with us, the distance between them was significant.

Now I’ve not always been good about knowing what to do with that.  I tend to feel guilty and sometimes that’s all that happens because the problems seem so big (because they are), and I don’t know where to start.  And so I turn on the TV and go on with my life.  I can’t fix it all so I struggle to feel like anything I do makes any real difference.

We learned last night that to put a child through high school for a year costs $300.  So we took up an offering and raised $300.00 among the eight of us that were there.  One child will go to school because we met together last night.

Liberia still has lots of problems.  And that’s just Liberia.  I could write lots of other articles about the plight of Puerta Rico devastated by hurricanes, other countries and people who are living with war and daily life and death uncertainties.

But a Superintendent on the Lofa River District has a truck because of the gifts of our District, and one child will go to school next year who wouldn’t have been able to go had we not met last night.  I guess it’s a start.


Mission Alignment

I have been reminded again this week of the importance of mission alignment.  As I suspect you know already, mission alignment is about understanding your church’s purpose and focusing in on the mission that flows out of that purpose with laser like precision.  Knowing what your mission is and zeroing in on the things necessary for the accomplishment of that mission is critical to successfully carrying out a church’s calling.  Mission alignment answers two vital questions:  One, what should we be doing?  And two: What shouldn’t we be doing?  Every church needs to continually evaluate itself on the basis of how well it is accomplishing its mission and purpose and aligning the mission is vital in that process.

And while I have thought about this in terms of churches, districts, annual conferences, and organizations for some years now, I never really thought about it in terms of the work of individual pastors or my work as a District Superintendent.  I think I have thought intuitively about our work and the questions that arise out of mission alignment.  But I’ve not really put the two together into the same language.  But the fact is, like churches, leaders need mission alignment as well.

An interesting reality I see in the annual church conference joint dialogue forms, that SPRC’s and clergy do together every year (yes, I read them!) is that in the space where it asks, “What should the pastor stop doing in order to accomplish the shared goals?” Rarely is there anything listed!  Apparently we believe that simply adding more and more tasks to the pastor’s plate will create more effective ministry.

Of course like a church without mission alignment, a pastor who does everything usually goes a mile wide and an inch deep.  And while the church culture continues to reward this model of behavior there are congregations and clergy that are doing things differently.  I am aware for example, of churches where much of the hospital visitation is being done by a trained team of compassionate lay people.  This can be done in some very creative ways and can allow the pastoral leader significant time to focus on leading and the particular roles that are uniquely theirs.  When I was serving in the local church, I chose not to attend some of the meetings.  I checked in with the leaders but I didn’t find it necessary to attend the meetings themselves.

Now is the DS suggesting that pastors stop doing pastoral care, or play golf during the Ad-Council meeting?  No.  I am suggesting that there are ways to structure things differently so that the ten things that the pastor is currently doing might be honed and focused around the mission and calling of a pastoral leader.  So that the pastoral leader can become more and more able to concentrate on his/her particular and perhaps unique role in the task of carrying out the mission of the church.

Mission alignment is critical for the church and for the pastoral leader. Without it we try to do everything and often we end up doing nothing really well.