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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

You weren't listening

When that little fur ball terror known as Abby Gail McKinley, our cairn terrier, was but a pup, I expressed consternation to our vet one day about her boundless supply of energy.

"Don't worry," he said, "when they get to be four years old they start to settle down."

Abby is now seven years old and has shown no sign of settling down. She is still the same terror she always was. (And we love her for it.) I can only conclude that she wasn't listening to the vet.

Some days our interns and supervisors seem to exhibit the same kind of listening skills.

After all, when you listen to the "experts" or the media, the message is that congregations are in big trouble, in decline, headed for hospice care, relics of the past. Gloom and doom, big time.

But when I listen to our interns and supervisors, I hear about the places where curtains are being washed for the first time in years and walls painted; where unprecedented numbers of baptisms are taking place; where a moribund women's ministry with three stalwart members who were convinced that nobody else in town was interested in women's ministry started up a new one and drew fifteen the first night; where buildings are being expanded and new members are being received. The stories I hear are about living, vital, active congregations. I hear about congregations making the remarkable discovery that the best days are not in the past, but in the future.

I do not always see the world through rose-colored glasses. I know that there are plenty of troubled congregations around, places where bitter conflict is the order of the day, places that have given up. I do not wish to deny that reality. But it is not the only reality. There are also plenty of good stories out there, and I appreciate the opportunity to hear them and on occasion to retell them.

So to all those interns and supervisors who haven't been listening I offer this advice: don't start.

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