My Methodist Studies experience in seminary was, as far as I know, unique. My professor liked experiential learning. He had us in the archives handling primary resources every chance he could. And then there were the bands.
Part of Methodist history is the tradition of band meetings - they're kind of like the original small groups. And so our professor of Methodist history had us also meet in bands each class period. (That alone was interesting because it's not often a room full of graduate students asks the question "How is it with your soul?")
But here is where things got really interesting. At the end of the semester, he told us, our grade for the class would be the average grade of our band.
This is not the kind of thing you tell a room full of young adults who have chosen to attend a world-class university. Group projects are one thing; this was a whole different ballgame. He couldn't be serious.
It turns out, he was serious.
Throughout that semester, we were assigned to meet at the beginning of each class session with our bands, to ask "How is it with your soul?" and to collaborate on all our classwork. While our papers and projects were individual, you never saw anyone turn anything in that had not been looked over by at least a couple of bandmates.
In the end, we knew everything we did was riding on not only our success, but the success of our bandmates.
And this is what our professor told us. "My job is to prepare you to lead churches, to be pastors and ministry leaders. And in the church, you don't get to stand out on your own. You succeed together, or you fail together."
You succeed together, or you fail together. He broke the truth of the church down into such simple terms, and an object lesson I'm sure none of us ever forgot.
One could take this lesson and apply it to any level of the church, whether locally or denominationally, or even universally. We succeed together, or we fail together. There is no in between.
And yet, we keep doing church as though there is. As though we have the "right" way of doing things, or the "best" model. I reject that idea. I reject the idea that just because it works in one place, it will work somewhere else. I reject the idea that if one person figures something out, the logical next step is for all of us to do that thing. That's just not how the world works, or how the church should engage the world.
And yet, it's how we've build the Christian Industrial Complex. Selling one size fits all curriculum, looking up to "successful" churches to show us the way, following "successful" pastors' leads.
Don't hear me wrong - many churches do wonderful things that we can learn from, but we need to see ourselves as unique communities that, while we may learn from others, we each bring our own unique gifts, individually and communally. And they way we succeed together (rather than fail together) is to bring those gifts to the table and allow them to be used in all their uniqueness.
Connection is a core value of my ministry and the way I approach working with churches. Sometimes we have to stop asking "How do we do the right thing?" and change it to "How do we partner with the people who are already doing the right thing?"
And one of the ways we do that is to collaborate and share life with others in ministry. When we want to learn a new thing, or take a new tack, we need to engage that process with others. The most impactful part of the seminary experience was not just the education in the classroom, but also the education in between those class times, when we gathered together at bars or in coffee shops to share life and discuss what was happening in our own journeys.
So how are you doing life with someone this week? How are you succeeding together? How are you seeking out opportunities to live into the essentially connectional nature of ministry?
In the meantime, if you're interested in an opportunity to do vision ministry together with others, check out my Intergenerational Leadership cohorts through Vibrant Faith. It's an opportunity to grow in your intergenerational approach to ministry, and to do it in a group of others taking the same approach in their own context. I hope you'll join us!