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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

On finding your way

Our vacation on the Maine coast was coming to an end, and we were planning our trip back to the Manchester, N.H., airport. After gorging ourselves for a few days on seafood we were ready for something different and settled on Friendly's, a chain of ice cream and sandwich shops that was a favorite of ours when we lived in that part of the country. I looked up Friendly's in the phone book, found one in Portsmouth, N.H., and plugged the address into the GPS.

Sure enough, the GPS ("Garmanda," we call her) delivered us with little fuss or bother to the Friendly's parking lot. When we were finished (I passed on the Friendly’s heart attack special, a cheeseburger in which the bun—I'm not making this up—is replaced by two grilled cheese sandwiches), I simply asked Garmanda to take us to the Manchester Airport, and she did, keeping us posted all the time on what time we could expect to arrive.

I could make millions, and live in the style in which I would like to be accustomed, if I could come up with a GPS for congregations. It would be a gizmo into which a pastor could plug in a desired destination (the creation of a new contemporary service or the implementation of an imaginative confirmation program). The gizmo would spit out all the moves to be made and the proper time to make them to the complete satisfaction of all concerned, all the while informing folks of the exact date of implementation. Unfortunately, this kind of thing requires working with people, not just negotiating turns on a highway, which makes my dream invention exponentially more difficult and certainly beyond my limited capabilities.

Some high-priced new cars come fully equipped with GPS systems, but no congregation does. It would be nice sometimes if ministry, in the context of a congregation, worked like assembling IKEA furniture (first do this, then do that, and it is all put together) but it doesn’t. This requires pastoral leaders who are nimble, agile, able to change, adjust and deal with occasional frustrations and failures. (Interns: I figure that if you did not fail at anything this year, you have not tried much and probably have not learned much.) No GPS. Just that "cloud by day and fire by night" business.

It was nice to have an easy way to find Friendly's, but it would have been really exciting to find it on my own. Hope you are having exciting times in your congregation!


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