My Healthy Skepticism

Are we pastors (and churches) really better together?

Let me disclose my bias right up front: I’ve served in a handful of different denominations, and I’ve never liked district- and national-level church stuff. Typically, I’ve felt as if they just take time away from good ministry to create the illusion of some larger thing we’re all working on together that really doesn’t make much sense and accomplishes little.

That’s why I balked at the idea of participating in a Healthy Church Network1 when I became pastor at Lander (Wyo.) EFC in 2010. I agreed to go once, and I’m glad I did, because what’s going on with the Rocky Mountain District is different from anything I’ve experienced in the past. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong.

The biggest place where I’ve benefited from being plugged into our district is in processing big ministry questions. I’m a solo pastor in a growing, mid-sized church. We should have more staff, but we’ve got other financial priorities. So for the time being, it’s just me. I can figure out a lot of the stuff that comes down the pike, but not all of it. There’s no substitute for working those questions through with people who know me and who have been where I am now.

Every HCN meeting is an investment in relationships that pay huge ministry dividends when I need good outside perspective. I’ve received that from other pastors and especially from Greg Fell, our district superintendent. Our church has functioned in peace and with remarkable unity for the past five years, and I feel as if the district and, specifically, Greg have had a huge part in that. The access to wise council that comes with being a part of this district is like nothing I’ve been part of before, and that’s invaluable.

Additionally, we’ve benefited from relying on the district to keep us abreast of what’s going on at the national level and with church and culture in general. Greg has occasionally posed poignant questions to our elder board and helped us think through how to respond to the hard stuff.

We’ve also benefited from partnering with other churches in ministry. After the flooding in Colorado in 2013, we sent a team of workers to help put things back together, in cooperation with sister EFCA churches and other congregations involved in the relief effort. The district has helped with church-planting efforts in our remote neck of the woods, and we’ve been in a spot to help with that in the past.

Simply put, our church is better because we’re part of this district, and I’m a better pastor. I’m glad we have a larger group to lean on that goes out of its way to serve and include us even through we’re situated at the far edge of the district. I couldn’t be happier to have been proven wrong about the value of being plugged in.

1Healthy Church Networks meet in 10 different regions within the Rocky Mountain District, including pastors and associates from 14 churches. District Superintendent Greg Fell attends each on a monthly basis. Together, leaders discuss current issues designed and driven by the pastors in each respective region. Other districts have similar gatherings, often called pastoral clusters or cohorts.
Adapted from the Rocky Mountain District newsletter, winter 2015.

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