Healthy ministries: the goal of Committee on Ministry Work
The Committee on Ministry’s primary responsibility is “to serve as pastor and counselor to the ministers and Certified Christian Educators of the presbytery, to facilitate the relations between congregations, ministers, and Certified Christian Educators, and the presbytery, and to settle difficulties on behalf of presbytery when possible and expedient.” (G-11.0501) The primary responsibilities of the COM are best fulfilled by fostering healthy ministries in the congregations of the presbytery.
Health, wellness, wholeness, well-being: all these English words come from a common root word that connects to the Hebrew word, shalom. Shalom is variously translated as a greeting akin to “hello,” as peace, and as wholeness, health and well being. God’s will for the shalom, the peace and health, of God’s people is a theme found in every part of the Bible.
Yet health in congregational life is not so easily defined as health in a human body. The shape of congregational life varies from one place to another. Not every church can or should engage in precisely the same forms of worship, Christian education, congregational fellowship, or service to the world beyond the church building. We might be tempted to say that healthy congregations, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. The marvelous diversity of healthy congregations might even encourage us to conclude that healthy congregations can only be known when we see them. However, there are some shared characteristics that are discernable in most healthy congregations.
Characteristics of healthy ministry:
Healthy congregations can be found in inner city settings, on the square in county seat towns, and nestled into suburban developments. Yet in all the variety of healthy expressions of ministry, healthy congregations are alike in sharing many of these norms and behaviors:
- Vibrant faith in God is expressed in lively, faithful worship and in a commitment to engage in ministries of justice and compassion.
- Caring response to the needs of people outside the church is as important as fostering relationships of friendship and caring within the congregation.
- Following God’s intentions for the congregation is more important than maintaining buildings or merely balancing the budget.
- Respect for tradition and the past is balanced by flexibility and creativity.
- People of all ages are growing in wisdom and knowledge.
- Relationships of friendship and mutual accountability provide the context for inclusive hospitality and respectful evangelism.
- Respect, accountability and trust rather than control, individualism and secrecy characterize relationships within the congregation.
- Clear structures of authority and decision-making are coupled with open access to those structures by the entire congregation.
- Transparency and openness in regard to communication, information sharing and decision-making are balanced by appropriate and respectful treatment of confidential information.
- Respect for the authority of called and elected leaders is coupled with the awareness that leaders are only part of a very complex organism.
- Congregational self-confidence is balanced by appropriate humility.
In the language of another era the Preliminary Principles of the Book of Order tells us what the church is called to do.
The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. (G-.0200)
Congregations, like the people who are part of them, are gifted and flawed, faulty and faithful, often messy and always thoroughly human. No congregation will ever fully live up to the ideal of the great ends of the church. However, when congregations are healthy, they are able to devote their best energies to fulfilling God’s call to them, as each congregation finds its way to respond to the claims of God on the people of God.
Committees on Ministry that are healthy devote their best energies to helping the ministries of the presbytery to be healthy. As they do, they partner with God in bringing to reality the Great Ends of the Church.