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Interview in The Christian Century

March 15th, 2012 by isaac · 3 Comments

For some strange reason The Christian Century decided to interview me in their series on ministry in the 21st century. Here’s an excerpt:

What does being a leader mean to you?
An anticlerical stream runs through the center of the Anabaptist tradition. Pastors aren’t singled out as default leaders. Leadership roles for us are always temporary and specific, depending on whom the congregation appoints for a particular task. These kinds of decisions are made by consensus within our congregational life meetings, which occur every other month.

This leadership model has its frustrations. We have lots of meetings and lots of committee work. I find myself picking up the phone often to confer with different committee chairs or having to wait for the next congregational life meeting before I can get involved in some important matter.

My role as pastor means that I am a servant, doing the work that the congregation outlines for me. Power is always flowing through the gathered people, always being given and received. Perhaps this is an important reason why our church meetings are so well attended; even visitors at our worship services often stick around for congregational life meetings.

I also like to think of myself as a sort of grassroots organizer: our little church assembles as a polis, and I work behind the scenes to make sure everything is ready for the meeting. Each Sunday different people plan and lead the service, preach and provide child care. I spend a lot of time assembling these rotations of people and facilitating their leadership. I also show up early and transform our rented space into our sanctuary; I rearrange the pews, pull crates of hymnals from a storage closet and move the pulpit into position.

The organizing doesn’t end with Sunday worship. This week, our congregation is in charge of the meal for Open Table Ministries, a coalition of churches that sets up tables and chairs alongside the highway so we can eat lunch with people who live in the woods behind Wal-Mart and elsewhere. For me, pastoral ministry means getting enough people from church to­gether to make sloppy joes and casseroles for the dozens of people who are hungry for food and fellowship.

Ministry is organizing space for people to enjoy communion with God and one another. So I rearrange pews, and I find people to help me make sloppy joes.

(For the rest of it, follow this link to the magazine’s website: “Organizing for communion.”)


Tags: church life

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sheldon // Mar 15, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    For some strange reason … haha

    Wise words, nonetheless.

  • 2 Brooke // Mar 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Nice, Isaac, thanks for sharing. I just saw your name in a February issue about the Duke prison education partnership. Good to know some about what you’re doing these days.

  • 3 isaac // Mar 16, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Thanks for reading it, Sheldon and Brooke.

    Here’s a question from the interview that they didn’t include:

    What developments would you like to see in your congregation’s mission?

    The people at our church are wonderful. I am so grateful for them, and for the opportunity to walk alongside them as they show with their lives what God’s love looks and feels like. Not only have they created a culture of peace and hospitality as a church body, but they also live out the gospel in quiet and ordinary ways. I wouldn’t change a thing; I love them just the way they are, and feel privileged to be included in their lives as they bear witness to God’s life in the world. As their lives have grown into mine, this congregation has become the conditions of possibility that makes thought happen in me; without them, I’m not sure what it would mean to pray and think.