From Our Pastor Yours in Christ

From Our Pastor

Rob Sparks IV

In 1998 I graduated from seminary and joined the staff of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Georgia. Like all new careers there was a steep learning curve but one of the things that absolutely shocked me was the amount of junk mail church offices receive. I had had no idea that so many businesses make their living off of selling things to congregations.

Of course, I knew about publishers printing Bibles, hymnals, and Sunday School materials and I figured someone had to sew robes and pew cushions and prayer shawls but I really hadn't thought about multimedia companies, real estate agents, fund development agents, fund raising opportunities like pumpkin patches, and so many continuing education opportunities to grow your spirituality, or "your" church, and (especially) to grow your budget. As tempting as it is to throw everything into the "round file" you have to at least glance at it for there might be a diamond hidden within the dross. I'd like to report that since 1998 there is a bit less mail of the paper variety as more solicitations become electronic but I still receive postcards like one I got last week. It asked a bold question, "What if one day could make ministry enjoyable again?"

What a presumption that everyone who received this card isn't enjoying ministry! There are studies that indicate that the level of respect that ministers enjoy in the wider culture is at an historic low - and that may translate into melancholy in the pulpit - but still you would hope that pastors aren't a miserable lot!

I flipped the card over and on the other side was a picture of the conference speaker, wearing a bespoke suit (but without a tie), grinning broadly, with his arms crossed confidently across his chest; he's quoted in a paragraph next to his photograph, "Come and spend the day with me and the team - you will leave with the confidence of knowing that you're protecting what God has called you to lead." Elsewhere on the card in bold letters it reads: "Pastor, this conference is for you!" "One day of training. A lifetime of confidence." "40+ cities on the schedule." "Join us for one of our upcoming Ultimate Church Structure Conferences and gain the training and knowledge you need to make ministry enjoyable again."

Who is the intended audience of this advertisement? From the stock photographs used on the advertisement I realize that this was not geared towards the institutional church. It dawned on me that there are so many non-denominational and nontraditional congregations now that are being led by ministers who did not have a formal seminary training, nor the denominational support systems that I enjoy that I can well imagine that a lack of ministerial confidence could be an undermining factor in their church leadership. So many of them are reinventing the wheel as they create new ways to worship and organize that they are liable to feel like the emperor with no clothes. I'm not criticizing our brothers and sisters in the nondenominational parts of the Body of Christ - their non-traditional ways of worshipping and organizing are reaching seekers who don't know the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that our traditional, mainline churches don't - and for that I'm thankful. I also don't want to engage in false bravado that I'm brimming with confidence either but reading this advertisement reminded me that I'm a part of the "connectional church" and for that I am deeply thankful.

As a Presbyterian, if I have questions about how a ministry is, or isn't, taking shape or even if my confidence is flagging I can pick up the phone, call on Fairview's consultant down at the presbytery office, or I can easily call a colleague down the road. When I arrived at Fairview local Presbyterian ministers, some active and some retired, reached out to welcome me. Over the years they've offered advice, help preach if I went out of town and, perhaps most important of all, offered their prayers. It's not uncommon for ministers, especially the solo pastors, of the next Presbyterian Church down the road to share our vacation schedules with one another just in case we need to cover for a pastoral emergency or even a funeral.

I'm also reminded that even when our Executive Presbyter, Rev. Penny Hill, took sick and took a leave of absence last year and eventually died, the institutional church did not falter. We called the Rev. Dr. Jane Fahey to be our Interim Executive Presbyter and the presbytery then started the process of calling our next EP. I was heartened to know that several of the elders on that search committee, teaching and ruling, are friends of mine and I can trust them to follow God's Spirit in this call process. I also ask for your prayers for their work in this season.

Sometimes it takes slickly produced advertisement to remind you that you already have with they're selling! I'm thankful for the P.C.(U.S.A.), the Synod of the South Atlantic, the Presbytery of greater Atlanta and especially Fairview Presbyterian Church. I pray that you too enjoy the ministry of our church as it serves our neighborhood and the world.

Yours in Christ,