whirling dervishesRecently Sandi got a phone call from an outside vendor wishing to contact me. She is really good at fielding my calls, weeding out the ones just looking to sell something from those that are important. She handled the call well, but the caller was pretty insistent about speaking with me. Sandi wanted his number but he kept going back to “When will he be in?” Her response was classic in its defining Michael: “Well, he will most likely be here in about an hour or so, but he is our own whirling dervish”! The caller laughed and called back in an hour when I was able to take care of him, but he began our conversation “Hello Rev. Whirling Dervish!

The whirling dervish in Islamic tradition are a group that uses motions like spinning, jumping, falling, and rising to describe the deep mysterious relationship with God and how it is a physical as well as mental connection. The dervish intently seeks to connect with God through the daily “dance of life and study,” dedicated to uniting the body and spirit in its discovery of God.

I am pretty fortunate to have two skills in my personality bags of tricks: I multitask pretty well and communicate pretty well in diverse settings. This has been a real strength in the early years of my pastoring and because of these attributes I have been able of cover a great deal of ground in the ministry setting. Do notice I mentioned the younger years, however! The last year has found my body fighting back against my organized chaos and quick movements, and my health has been suffering from all my whirling. The Staff Parish committee has been trying for two years to get me to slow down, but the dervish in me keeps wanting to do more and achieve more with and for the people and ministry of Shepherd of the Hills! The are several things that are pulling against each other that make this hard: congregational size and pastoral/physical limitations.

Congregational size: 200 in worship is a magic number in congregational growth, and you have heard this from me before. It is a church size that is called transitional, a size that demands a small, well connected church grow to a church built around programs and small groups. There is not enough space, not enough staff and not enough money. Leadership for this size of church must not see these issues as negatives but as positives. However, the reality is that there is more ground for the staff to cover and usually there is a great deal of failed expectations. The demands on time become impossible to meet by just a few individuals. The wonderful thing is, this is when the faith community actually becomes the church of Christ! Things work without the pastor around; issues are resolved not just centrally but by smaller leadership collectives. Work is not done by the few but by the many. The growth that happens to move beyond the glass ceiling of 200 is very intentional, and I have chosen to urge us on to be the rare faith community that moves beyond this barrier.

Secondly are my physical and pastoral limitations. It is always a cute little concept that we pastors only work “one hour a week”, but I must say, I regularly have weeks in which that one hour begins Sunday morning and ends on Saturday afternoon. My schedule is not my own; it is based upon the availability of many, many people and it seems that even in a congregation that has many “retired” it is very difficult. Our six years together have been amazing and we have accomplished a great deal, but all of this has come at a cost for my mental and physical health. Accordingly, some self-care is in my future, but I would like to ask you to assist me with some ideas and responsibilities that can help me do that while also helping us as a congregation to grow.

1. If you need me, you will have to let me know. The days of staff intuition are over. You know, the pastor knowing your moods so she or he can respond or the “personal” touch that comes because someone reads the need. The church information pipeline simply is not as effective anymore at this size. If you are going into the hospital or would like some personal one-on-one care, please let me know and we will make it happen! Otherwise, look forward to time with Michael in a Bible study or a special worship time and I will be glad to share a moment with you! But please, if you are in some crisis, let me or Sandi know via email .

2. See the big picture instead of the small one. Our ministry is active and has many paths for participation. All of this is for the sake of a growing church, not a stagnant one. Be prepared to discover people with different ideas, different political stances and perspectives. Don’t be offended, but rather, see the power of God working in many different ways in many different lives!

3. Finally, grow in patience and be understanding. Remember the Lord teaches us with hands-on lessons. Lord, grant me patience and grant it to me now! Well, you will get what you ask for and in it, the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be manifest for all to see.

Hard to believe that in July 2011 I arrived at SHUMC with a great foundation below me (Thank you Rev. Buddy!) and a task to keep us moving toward the kingdom of God. Let us keep our eyes upon the Lord’s prize and watch as our time together flourishes! And I need your help in doing that, so grab a piece of the rope and let’s pull together!

See you in worship,
Rev. Michael
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