Here’s the second of the three essays I’m submitting as part of my application to the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) in Congregational Mission & Leadership program at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Again, suggestions and comments are welcome in the comment section. Thanks!
How would this D.Min. program help you to improve your leadership addressing these challenges and opportunities? What are your strengths and primary opportunities for growth? What does God want to do through you?
Whenever I’ve committed myself to a new direction in my ministry, such as family or multigenerational ministry, I’ve found that the success of that ministry depends on my willingness to go deeply into the subject. I am, on the whole, fairly pleased with what I’ve be able to achieve within my denomination on the district, regional, and national levels in those areas, mostly because I have developed a reputation of being somewhat of an expert in them. I would like to have a similar effect when it comes to helping the Unitarian Universalist Association as a denomination–and especially its congregations as individual religious communities–begin to see the possibilities of thinking and acting from a missional point of view. In order to do this, I believe I’m going to have to go far deeper into this subject than I have gone before with any subject in my ministerial career. Why? It was a relatively easy task to take secular research about the crucial role institutions play in supporting strong, healthy families and adapt that research in ways Unitarian Universalist congregations could accept and even embrace. The key word here is “secular.” The Humanist attitude of a majority of Unitarian Universalist congregations here in Midwest increases the likelihood that their leaders—especially lay leaders—will listen to and act on research and knowledge that comes the social sciences. But when you attempt to give them a religious purely reason for changing their collective behavior? Good luck.
As I mentioned in the first essay, I believe that in order for congregations to embody a missional attitude, they need to begin the process by closely examining the beliefs that form the core of their faith tradition. It has been my experience that Unitarian Universalist congregations would just as soon avoid examining those beliefs, preferring instead to look first to the potential outcomes of their actions in the world to give them their sense of mission. It’s not insignificant that the phrase “onward and upward forever” was used by nineteenth-century Unitarian minister James Freeman Clarke to describe the trajectory of humankind. This, indeed, could very well be what many Unitarian Universalists think of when they describe their religion as being “progressive.” We look not to the past, but to the future as our guide. The challenge for me, then, is to grasp the concept of the missional church so thoroughly that I can use my understanding of it to develop processes that encourage congregations to start with the foundations of their faith tradition when seeking to discern what their mission actually is.
A primary opportunity for growth here is getting over my suspicion that congregations are so entrenched in their full-speed-ahead attitude that I will be end up being a prophet crying in the wilderness. This obviously shows, on one hand, a lack of trust on my part in the ability of those who have ears in these congregations to hear, and on the other hand, a lack of faith in the spirit to move the hearts and minds of the very people with whom I’ve chosen to cast my lot. Clearly, I will need to take full advantage of every opportunity this program may offer for me to examine my own motives and discern my own path. But I do believe that, in spite of the massive changes in the American religious landscape, there is a continuing role for liberal religion and progressive faith traditions to address the profound issues confronting humanity now and in the coming years. I feel that I am called to be of use in helping Unitarian Universalist congregations find that role. I hope this program will help me do exactly that.