This weekend I had the privilege of being at Palmdale UMC for a RIM (Residence in Ministry--required edu for probationary pastors...). I have to be honest, RIM events do not have the best reputation out our way. Often they seem haphazard and poorly thought-out and planned. My peers and I have been discouraged and frustrated on more than one occasion. The worst one, in my mind, led into 3 hours of group therapy (with 35 people present), it was LONG and became tedious in short order. The program was hit and miss. It was just bad. Out of that our motto became "At least the fellowship is good." This weekend was completely different.
One of the new overseers of the RIM program brought us to his church and had things really well done. There were pre-planned presentations, time with each of the ministry leaders, good meals, relevant pieces of information. It was good. It was nice too because their ministry is going really well and it gave an example of where our "dying" churches can go and how ministry can be really fruitful and successful.
I learned a lot this weekend. Many of you know I have a bit of a stubborn character, "mildly indignant" as I like to put it. As such there are some things I've balked because they are popular or big name or whatever--one of those things includes anything "Purpose Driven". Well, Palmdale uses a lot of the purpose driven model, which I've known since I do camp with their associate minister and he regularly plugs most things purpose driven. For years, I've been unconvinced. But this weekend I saw how the principles have been effectively put into practice. I've also heard how the church community has latched onto those things. So, indignant or not, I have to admit that those things are working, and really, if my ultimate goal is to lead the church to greater health, action, and discipleship, then it doesn't really matter whether I really like the book or not (especially since I haven't bothered to read it). It's time to step up and at least read it, because seeing some things in practice made me want to know more and see how they might work.
One thing that PUMC emphasizes is their mission/vision statement: Building the next generation. Everything they do revolves around that statement. For two years now in workshops and trainings people have underscored the need for a relevant and pithy mission/vision statement and while I've understood it in principle, up until this weekend I'd never seen it in practice effectively. The statement becomes the litmus test for everything--why are we doing a program? study? event? it better have something specific to do with the mission/vision statement. You want to get up in arms about what we're doing and how it "isn't right" or "isn't how we've always done it"--your attack gets directed at the mission/vision statement. You know Bill, I'm sorry you don't like the new worship service, but our focus as a church is building the next generation and this new service does just that." Done. End of conversation. (more or less).
Another wonderful thing to witness was the lay empowerment at the church. Granted, it took years to really make it happen, but there are laity over all kinds of ministry--Christian education, music, the preschool, camping, discipleship, missions. It's really nice to see. They just flourish and love what they do.
I could go on and on about the wonderful things that Palmdale does and has done. But I'll just mention 2 more.
1) the youth are really empowered, they lead Bible study and their covenant groups. They also lead their own worship services on Sunday nights.
2) The way they talk about the purpose of their outreach ministries is great! They say, doing X earns us the right to...." (talk with parents, invite youth....etc) For instance, doing the preschool well earns us the right to talk with the parents and invite them to parenting classes or ESL or whatever, which in turn earns them the right to invite them to worship. Basically, they don't assume that simply because someone's child is at the preschool that the parents will buy into the church as a whole. They use outreach as trust-builders. It was refreshing.
Now, I've shared lots of good things, which there are many of, but Palmdale also shared stories of failures, heartache, and trials. It hasn't always been so glorious, when JP arrived there were about 100 people in the church and not all came on Sunday morning (a pretty normative line around here) and it's taken 17 years to get from A to B. But, they've done it! (Also, sharing some of the "I wish I'd known...." bits of wisdom gives me hope that I might be able to do it in less time, hence moving toward more possibilities.
Needless to say, I'm pumped!