Glimpses Across Liminal Thresholds

This is a prayer for our church as it experiences exciting interim times, exploring, nurturing, imagining, and sharing, through the Pastor Search Committee’s stimulating listening sessions, surveys, and focus on God’s will for our beloved church.  In that sense we are all on an interim threshold peering across it while also envisioning a much wider and even more influential threshold, a liminal one, reflecting our loving faith together as the Body of Christ.

The word liminal, derived from the Latin word limen, also means threshold, and it may be a spiritual way of saying all thresholds are not alike.  A church moving from a seasoned minister, to his absence, to interim and blessed providers, to hopes in searching, extends over a threshold too, but that word, as we often use it, may not be adequate to convey the more complex paths of transitioning experiences, which may deserve weeks or months or even a lifetime to cross.  They would be “liminal thresholds.”

Wikipedia says: “Liminal existence can be located in a separated sacred space, which occupies a sacred time. Examples in the Bible include the dream of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-19) where he encounters God between heaven and earth and the instance when Isaiah meets the Lord in the temple of holiness (Isaiah 6:1-6).  In such a liminal space, the individual experiences the revelation of sacred knowledge where God imparts [God’s] knowledge on the person.”

Liminal thresholds challenge us to recognize and seek sacred knowledge of God’s will for RRCB; and thus, how our visions and wishes for a Pastor fit within Divine will. While the Pastor Search Committee works its astute methodological radar, we may also wonder how we can make our church more attractive to pastors for whom we sense deeply we are looking.  By attractive, I don’t mean “pretty” or of an appropriate style, but instead, why and how we do things.  Dr. Richardson often used the phrase, “cultivate the soil, not the plant.”  In this situation, consider the plant a metaphor of our new Pastor, and the soil being combinations of substances which would best support and nurture his/her God-gifted talents and skills.  Poor soil would drain a Pastor’s spirit and deplete his/her energy from serving fully God’s calling.  Soil may also be job descriptions, particularly those parts which deal with the Pastor’s time, such staff supervision and overall church management.  Today especially, church oversight and management has become quite complicated, while spiritual nurturing for the congregation continues to be more desperately needed among all ages.  Can one Pastor do it all, or even most of it?

We don’t know the answers to these questions yet, and while we continue to look for guidance through the excellent work of the Pastor Search Committee, it might also be helpful for us to consider some of the trends in today’s thriving churches and among gifted preachers.  How do they do it?  Some of the possibilities can be found in an article in the Ministry Today magazine, written by T. D. Jakes, an American pastor, author, and filmmaker. He is the bishop of The Potter’s House, a non-denominational American megachurch, with 30,000 members.  Part of Jakes text is below.  See also the Ministry Today for the full article.

“You don’t have to travel too far back in time to identify what would have been considered a typical church. It was small in numbers and size and limited to spiritual functions. That was fine, and it met the needs of that day.

“However, today is a new day. The needs that are brought to the church are complex and varied. The church has to offer more than a sanctuary and a sermon.

“The 21st-century church has been catapulted into arenas that were hardly accessed a few years ago. It now offers so much more than just a sanctuary and a sermon. The 21st-century church is now a conglomerate, offering all the spiritual help it should and so much more. Examples include day care centers…. training institutes, youth organizations, senior citizen programs, help for coping with divorce, drug rehabilitation, vocational training, ministry to the incarcerated, anger management, ministering to those with HIV/AIDS, economic development, working with the homeless or business incubators, just to mention a few.

“All of these facets require qualified personnel to run them; qualified personnel require human resources and business management; and human resources and business management require the application of state and federal rules and regulations. Someone has to be a steward of the interest of the church and its leadership. In growing churches, it often becomes important that someone other than the pastor be able to respond to the many issues that occur on a daily basis.

“This person ensures that the direction set by the pastor is implemented, and that there is accountability. The pastor certainly cannot do it all. This is where the role of church administrator becomes so important. He or she is the valuable liaison between the pastor, the staff and the membership.”

It’s not too early for us to begin thinking about what our dream pastor/preacher might say about the pastor’s role in day-to-day church administration and how much or little he or she may be interested in over-seeing.

Fortunately, our church’s people-structure, part of our soil, is already very well fertilized with flexibility in this area, for we already provide a healthy separation of church business and spiritual care through the separate Board of Deacons and the Board of Administration, all thanks to the founding members in 1946. Talk about Divine knowledge. Professional church administration fits right into this structure. Here’s more from the Ministry Today’s article.

“The administrator acts as a liaison between the pastor, the congregation and the staff. Because of this, he or she should have excellent communication skills. Many churches have experienced devastating events, all due to a lack of people-to-people communication. Not letting the congregation or the staff know what is going on, or not listening to the church people and staff, only leads to problems.

“Church administrators must be excellent communicators and listeners. Misinformation, inappropriate information, or even too much information, can be a hindrance to the development and functioning of the organization. If a church administrator follows the biblical principles that have been laid out for us in the Word of God, there will be less communication problems, less time wasted and less money spent when money is not the answer.”

Most of us know some extremely talented preachers, including some who are also very gifted in pastoral care.  Such individuals may not be interested in an open pastor position, because many churches today still include in their job descriptions requirements for pastors to do it all, or almost all, much like what River Road’s pastors have faced in the past. Yet many ministers today who feel called to primarily preach, and nurture God’s presence, are increasingly feeling that the time, energy and their expertise to serve today’s growing administrative needs of a church, make open multi-task pastor positions not particularly attractive.  This is close to what happened to Barbara Brown Taylor; author of a dozen books, and named one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world; after 15 years of doing it all, she began experiencing “compassion fatigue” and eventually left the church, as she said, in order to keep her faith.

Did she over-serve day-to-day administrative needs at the expense of God’s liminal plan for her?  What a tragic loss. Here at RRCB, I can imagine seeing the eyes of one of the most gifted preachers I know, light up if a church like ours, offered him/her the position of Senior Pastor Preacher to focus his or her time on preaching and spiritual nurturing solely, with perhaps minor participation in other areas of the preacher’s choice?  Might such an ideal “soil” option have extended Barbara Brown Taylor’s highly effective preaching career?  Might this type of soil be an appropriate option for us to consider cultivating further here at RRCB, even if it is not mentioned by a “super” preacher prospect?  Or, perhaps, especially is it is not mentioned by a super preacher prospect.  Think about it.

What do you see in your glimpses across inspirational liminal thresholds?  We are now standing at one of its edges.  What exciting potentials do you see impacting RRCB’s growth, the Body of Christ in our church, our people, our faith, and our missions to serve together and outward?  Share your glimpses with us as we imagine, pray, and wait together.

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