I wish you could have joined me last Thursday as I accompanied both Keith Calara and Austin Eikenberry to Fairfield Community United Methodist Church, the location of the spring meeting of the Bridges District Committee on Ordained Ministry. The purpose of our afternoon meeting was to introduce Keith and Austin as declared candidates for the Ordained Ministry in the California Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our time together was characterized by lively conversation between committee members and our perspective candidates. This meeting was introductory in nature, providing them the opportunity to share the calling that each of them received from God causing them to take this important step in their faith journey. They had opportunity to share aspects of their theological perspectives, their spiritual background as they grew in faith throughout earlier years of their lives, and how they’ve found opportunity to express their gifts and graces in ministry at Napa Methodist Church.
It is unusual for one church to introduce two candidates at once into the candidacy process. It is also unusual for that church to have introduced another candidate to that same committee not quite three years ago (Burke Owens) and to have seen him subsequently accept his first appointment to one of our sister churches (Petaluma United Methodist Church) just a year ago. And – this is the big news just announced this past Sunday – Jay Parr, who was the first Pacific School of Religion Field Placement Student to serve under my pastoral leadership in the 2012 – 2013 academic year, accepted an appointment as senior pastor at Redding First United Methodist Church effective July 1, 2016! This is one of the largest churches in our conference and the largest in what is now known as the Great Northern District.
So what makes Napa Methodist such a significant Teaching Church? If I had to condense all the many facets of learning into just one phrase, I would say that this church provides a place where leadership can be taught, caught and expressed. Churches providing such a place are rare, more than you might imagine. First of all, most churches, like many organizations, are over-managed and under-lead. Another way of saying this is that most churches demand that things are done in the right way more than they demand that the right things are done. Good management reduces chaos and provides a state of equilibrium across the congregation. Anxiety levels remain low as expectations are easily fulfilled. Good leadership actually increases chaos and disrupts a state of equilibrium across the congregation. Anxiety levels rise to moderate levels as expectations are, at times, unmet and failure becomes a part of the learning process. Management is important. Leadership is at least if not more important to the church as it aspires to accommodate to the new 21st century realities.
Is it harder to be part of a congregation known as much, if not more, for breeding leadership among its interns than management skills? Absolutely! But, then, it is harder to actually be a disciple of Jesus (that is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps) than it is to be complacent by being a church member who never “rocks the boat.” I am grateful that this congregation, over the years, has chosen what I believe to be the harder course to take. I believe that, while this path may be wrought with more difficulties and complexities, it is also, in the end, more rewarding. Thank you for your willingness to take this journey!
– Pastor Lee Neish