The Anglican Church in North America has always embraced planting missions across the continent. Archbishop Robert Duncan began his tenure pressing the Anglican 1000 initiative, with the goal of planting 1,000 parishes within ten years. Archbishop Foley Beach took up the mantle with his Always Forward initiative and now Presiding Bishop Ray Sutton (Reformed Episcopal Church) has rolled out REC 100 – with a goal of 100 new REC parishes .
As you can imagine, there are a lot of church planters or potential church planters in ACNA. Perhaps you know one? Or maybe you are one. Well this little post is hopefully one of encouragement for those of you sojourning as a missionary or is informative for those considering taking the plunge. If you are neither one then I hope it spurs you to pray for your friends who are engaged in what I call the multivocational life.
Why not bivocational? Well for one, many of us who are serving missions are living a trivocational or more life. But the multivocational life is more than where one finds their paycheck. The multivocational life is not unique to mission priests (or in my case, mission deacon) but is truly what every Christian lives. We have our family, our spouse, our career(s), our volunteer work, etc. Every aspect is a different vocation to different people – so congratulations – you already live a multivocational life my friend!
But living the multivocational life in the mission context is often a miserable existence of being overextended but telling yourself “I’m multitasking.” No you’re not. You’re majoring in the minors or simply failing to finish any given project before you.
Look, I get it and I sympathize. But you need to do yourself a favor and remind yourself why you are planting a mission. Reassess and rediscover what are the majors and what are the minors and how much time are you spending on each?
The modern mission pastor has to do a lot more than ever before thanks to the gift of modern technology. There’s more to planting a church than simply preparing for Sunday’s service – which can be time consuming for any pastor drafting bulletins, recruiting a musician, selecting music, printing readers, finding lectors, cleaning linens, purchasing communion elements, refilling candle oil, etc. This doesn’t factor in you are the resident handy-man, janitor, outreach director, newsletter editor, organizing the vestry meetings, preparing for Sunday School/Bible Study, visiting parishioners, and recruiting nursery volunteers. Additionally, in the Internet Age, the mission pastor is the webmaster, marketing director, social media manager, podcast editor, etc. Oh and here comes COVID-19 so congratulations on being promoted to videographer and learning to live-stream – whew!
This isn’t just the life of a mission pastor, I can hear the quiet “Amen” running through many of the minds of the rectors, curates, and vicars serving churches that have reached and been at parish-level for quite some time. What I’ve outlined is simply the life of a pastor for the majority of congregations. It’s easy to burn out.
Friends, pray for your pastor. Join your vestry. Ask how to serve your mission or your well established parish. You have a vocation as well – that of being church member. Remember, “Bear one another’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2, ESV). This includes your church-planting pastor.
My fellow clergy, to you and to myself I write to remind you that we must be focused on the majors. Now what are those majors? Word and Sacrament. We are to preach the Gospel and deliver the sacraments. We are to pastor the flock given to our care and to minister to them. Let the Gospel be our first priority and the close second be serving those within our care. Seek out gifted members within your mission or parish and let them help you. Yes, let them. It’s too easy for us to think “I can do it better” or “They won’t do it the way I want it.”
Stop. Invest in your members, disciple them, and help them to lead with you. You can’t build a community alone so raise up those around you to take ownership over projects or at least to assist you in your work.
I do not speak as an expert. I’m not writing as someone who has it all figured out. There isn’t dramatic growth at my mission and Lord knows I am no St. Paul. But I am writing as a fellow traveler who has failed, will fail, and Lord-willing can still be used to focus on the mission entrusted to me. Remember what St. Paul tells in Galatians: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” I am a nothing talking to fellow nothings.
We nobodies need to be reminded it is not about what I can do. It’s not about my vision. It is not about me. We have been given a commission, a Great Commission. The key word for us is to “Go” and then to “make disciples”. We can’t make disciples if we are running ourselves ragged and not investing in the images of God we serve. I know you want to grow your mission but listen to me – this is not a numbers game. This is a discipleship program. If you do not begin your focus on delivering the Word and Sacrament then you can’t advance to disciplining your flock in the Scriptures and Christian walk. Visit your parishioners, especially the sick, and pray and love on them. You can do this socially distanced (Facetime them, stand outside their home and pray from afar, call them while sitting in the hospital parking lot).
Pastoring can and will be exhausting. It is a calling of servanthood, so serve your flock. Raise them up to takeover the webmaster, social media manager, bulletin printing, etc. (Good luck on the janitor role!) Pause and re-read the Ordinal and focus on your calling:
It appertaineth to the Office of a Deacon, in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he ministereth the holy Communion, and to help him in the distribution thereof; and to read Holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church; and to instruct the youth in the Catechism; in the absence of the Priest to baptize infants; and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the Bishop. And furthermore, it is his Office, where provision is so made, to search for the sick, poor, and impotent people of the Parish, to intimate their estates, names, and places where they dwell, unto the Curate, that by his exhortation they may be relieved with the alms of the Parishioners, or others.The Form and Manner of Making of Deacons, The Ordinal, 1662 Book of Common Prayer (emphasis mine).
Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Take thou Authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in the Congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto.The Form and Manner of Ordering of Priests, The Ordinal, 1662 Book of Common Prayer (emphasis mine).
My fellow pastors who are bordering on burning out: tell someone. Call your dean, reach out to your bishop, let someone you else share that burden with you and give you help.
To those who are in the midst of planting, serving, or considering a mission: Godspeed! Might I suggest some resources to assist you in this blessed vocation:
- Always Forward
- Always Forward Podcast
- Via Media Podcast “How to Plant an Anglican Church”
- RedeemerCast “This Anglican Life: Church Planting”
- Caminemos Juntos
Know of other church planting resources? Drop them in the comments below.