Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
For Christmas, my family gave me a new teapot. It is a wonderful gift. They know how much I like to brew a pot of tea, especially when I host meetings in my study at church. It is cast iron and will keep tea warm for hours. Did I mention how much I like it?
In any case, when I brought my new teapot to church, I forgot at home the little basket that you use to brew the tea leaves. Wanting to brew tea in the new pot, I went to get the metal basket out of my old teapot. This teapot was porcelain and came from a visit in the 1980's to England. Just as I took it off the shelf, the handle broke. I didn't drop or bang it. The handle just fell off the pot. Everything, even teapots have a life cycle. With sadness but also an appreciation for many years of service, I said goodbye. It was time to discard the old and embrace the new.
At the start of a New Year, it becomes important for the church to engage in thankful releasing of the old things that are broke. We can - and ought - to do this with a sense of appreciation for what has been and the way that we as a church have proclaimed the good news of Christ. When we say goodbye to something we've been doing or change a practice from the past, we are not saying that it was 'bad' or 'broken' or that we shouldn't have done it. We are simply acknowledging that going forward it is not going to serve the gospel in quite the same way.
One of the things that it has taken me a long time to recognize which fits into this category for St. James is the programmatic style of ministry. This way of doing church involves providing a large cafeteria of options for all ages (from children to youth to young adults to seniors). These programs (if done right) attract a large number of people, who will join the church. Trouble is that this way of doing church is expensive and requires a large paid staff. From experience, we found out that it will burn out volunteers to try and maintain the same level of programming. With a large debt and St. James historic giving patterns, we could no longer afford to do ministry in this model.
In the past three years, we have successfully navigated the waters of re-sizing ministry at St. James. Our leaders have discerned a direction away from the programmatic model. Instead of offering multiple programs, we are committing ourselves to developing relationships with people. We are choosing to engage one-on-one in ways that build and deepen relationships with God, each other, and our neighbors. Quality over quantity. We are doing this using creative and entrepreneurial methods that involve more volunteers called Ministry Hosts. We have adjusted the planning horizon from a year to a four-month period, which allows for flexibility, freshness, and greater productivity. At the same time, we have worked to bring down our debt, which will free up additional resources in the future for ministry. Things are hopping, and the combined new vision and methodology is working remarkably well.
To arrive at this place we needed to say goodbye to the old teapot which was broken and embrace a new and different vessel. The new teapot is brewing an amazing cup of tea. St. James is smaller than we once were and we are vibrant, attractive, imaginative, welcoming, healthy, and receptive to God's Spirit moving among us. We remain a "work-in-progress," which is a designation that I hope we never lose. There is untapped potential. There is a need for greater engagement. There is always a need for us to repent and turn again to God.
At the start of a new calendar year, I look forward to what God has in store for us. May God bless us all with an openness of heart, mind, and spirit. May we commit anew to the sharing of the good news of Jesus in our words and actions. And on these cold winter days, may we find the wisdom of stopping to brew and enjoy a pot of tea.