by Layton Friesen
You may have heard that the author of this column is assuming the work of EMC conference pastor. I hope “assuming” is the right word.
When a pastor is interviewed for a leadership position the question is often asked, “What is your vision for the church?” Depending on how that is taken, that can be good question or a bad question.
Is it important for a pastor to understand Christ’s vision for the church as described in the scriptures, and should a pastor be able to give a winsome summary of that vision during an interview? Absolutely. Should a pastor be asked to clearly describe a leadership style, a way of handling conflict, creating change, and building teamwork that the congregation can expect? Absolutely.
But should a pastor arrive at a church lugging a specific “vision” for that congregation before the work has even started? Before any prayers have been said at deathbeds? Before any sermons have been preached on the gospel of Matthew? Before long and caffeinated conversations with parishioners become friends? Before the pastor finally understands the history, personalities, and conniptions of the deacon board? I doubt it.
So I will try not to bring a “vision” to impose on the conference. However I do “assume” some things about who we are as a conference, and I now tell you what the main one is. I assume that in God’s eyes the EMC is something.
This bond of communion, this camaraderie at the feet of Jesus, this fellowship in mission, is not a merely human construction. I assume that this covenant between the 64 churches, at its deepest level, is a creation of the Holy Spirit.
To assume that in God’s eyes the EMC is something may sound a little understated. But to assume this does serious damage to one of our enemies: secularism. One of the acids secularism throws at the church is the corrosive product called “nothing-buttery.”
“Nothing-buttery” says that prayer is nothing but self-talk. That church unity is nothing but team spirit. That congregations are nothing but special-interest groups. That “conferences” are nothing but bureaucracy, structures we put up to help ourselves do our “mission” (another concept nothing-buttered in our age).
After we nothing-butter the conference, we can take it or leave it. We can force it to do what we want or else. We can tinker with it, gussy it up to look relevant, despise it as a nuisance or ignore it into oblivion. Nothing-buttery is an acid that destroys any sense that God is in our midst; so no need to take off your shoes, for you certainly can’t be standing on holy ground.
No one can prove that the EMC is something in God’s eyes. We assume God did it. As a pastor within this communion I can hopefully tend the garden God has planted. I can hopefully offer encouragement, a listening ear, wisdom or a sermon to those the Spirit has led into the fray. As a pastor my calling is to be a real, live pester of unbiblical thinking and living. I assume God has called me to be a pastor in our midst, a beckon that I confess causes me to tremble.
My prayer is that God would use me to show the EMC that it is something in God’s eyes.