Monday, August 24, 2015

It's All Pioneer Ministry

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow pastors in a rural valley glenn in Central Colorado.  The valley, just outside of Salida, had been settled sometime in the mid-eighteen hundreds by farmers and gold prospectors.  Stone ruins of the ancient settlements could still be seen poking out of the tall wild grass.  The original settlement was long gone.  But if you listened close enough, you could still hear the yoked oxen grunting as they plowed boulder strewn fields in the heat of the day.  You could still hear the metronomic stamping of a hammer down on an anvil in a barn where horse-shoes were being made. These were true Pioneers who lived here just a few generations ago.  They worked land that had never been worked, created a settlement where no settlement had ever been before, they eked out of nothing an existence that in some measure, still exists.

I have been thinking lately that all ministry these days is Pioneer Ministry

It's All Pioneer Ministry

I have a friend who is leading a large church in the ECO denomination (Evangelical Covenant Order).  When he talks about the challenges of his call setting, he speaks of the loneliness of decisions that have to be made, and the sheer magnitude of work involved in each day at the church.  It's on his shoulders, and it will succeed or fail because of his work and providence alone.  In many ways, he's totally on his own.  It's Pioneer Ministry.

My father is now an interim pastor in a small church outside of Sacramento with the EPC denomination (Evangelical Presbyterian Church).  Ironically, it is actually called, "Pioneer Presbyterian Church".  Each day my Dad goes to work and thinks about how to get some momentum in this once vital church.  He is trying to build a new settlement where there is no church settlement.  He's on his own.  It's Pioneer Ministry.

Another friend is a youth pastor in a nearby, neighboring church.  His youth program is thriving, but his support networks are very thin.  His senior pastor is away on extended leave, and his Presbytery within the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church, USA), is without an Executive Presbyter.  He's on his own. It's a Pioneer Ministry.

I am now one year into my third New Church Development at Mission Street Church within the PC (USA).  It's hard work.  My muscles are still aching on Monday morning from the heavy lifting that I did at 4:30AM yesterday of speaker systems, folding tables and musical instruments.  We meet in a movie theater because we don't have a building yet.  It's often lonely work.  There's very little support from the Presbytery, although there are masses of committee meetings to attend on a weekly basis.  I'm on my own.  It's Pioneer Ministry.

But here's the thing.  I just left a very large church in the ECO denomination (by some estimates, the 10th largest Presbyterian Church in the country).  But it was also lonely, hard work.  The denominational support was scant, if all but non-existent.  Each morning when I went to work it was like hitching up a set of oxen to a yoke and a hoe and plowing a field.  Large boulders, that would impede ministry growth, would often be in the way of a good harvest, and these would have to be removed in the heat of the day.  It was Pioneer Ministry.

What am I getting at.  Simply this.  If you decide to do ministry in this day and age, if you decide to serve God's people in an effective and dynamic way, you will be doing Pioneer Ministry.  It doesn't matter what denomination you are a member of, or what size of church you lead, you will pretty much be on your own.  There will occasionally be a pastor who sits beside you and lends an ear to your particular problem or challenge, but you are on your own.

It's All Pioneer Ministry.

But there is a beauty in being a Pioneer.  To be able to start something somewhere where no ministry has ever taken place before is a powerful experience.  When you read the Bible about other Pioneer Ministers like the Apostle Paul, or the disciples, you can actually say that you can relate to their struggles.  Paul was on his own in Asia Minor, and so are you.

I LOVE Pioneer Ministry.  I want to underline this, I LOVE PIONEER MINISTRY.  Pioneer Ministry makes me so excited, even writing this blog post, I get a happy feeling.  And as I look back, the biggest mistakes I have actually made in my ministry were to rely on denominational or other structures that were in place that gave a false sense of assurance or support.  It's better to hoe your own hoe, row your own canoe (to mix a metaphor).

And I'll tell you what, when you are sitting in the rocking chair on the front porch of your church equivalent to a small log cabin at the end of a hard day of work, with a corn cob pipe in your mouth, and you look out on the field and see what the oxen of the Holy Spirit and you were able to do together in the heat of the day, you feel a deep sense of pride and honor.  Instead of the sound of horse shoes being stamped out in your ear, you can hear a strong but steady voice from the Holy Spirit in your ear, saying - "Well done! Carry On!"

Be a Pioneer!  Build something that people generations from now will remember and appreciate.

All For Now,

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