See you in the mission field

As many of you have already heard, I am in the midst of transition from Conference staff for congregational vitality to local church pastor. The past seven years serving on the cabinet and as the Vital Church Project Director have been challenging and rewarding, but as I attain that mythic “65 years old” this June, I am so looking forward to returning to the local church setting where I have always believed the Body of Christ is most powerfully expressed. As much as I have appreciated working with so many of you, I have deeply missed the intimate work of shared discipleship in the local church.
I want to assure all of you who have followed my work (especially those who have made good use of it) that the leaders of our conference and episcopal area remain fully committed to congregational vitality as a focal purpose of our connectional system. A team of conference leaders are already engaged in using what we have learned about congregational vitality over the past seven years to define the focus of a congregational vitality staff position to be filled in the months to come. I have every confidence that what emerges next will be a step forward in our quest for missional fruitfulness.
We have learned much about what thriving congregations have in common. Here are a few things I would recommend for your consideration:
  • Vital congregations nurture vital leaders. The common qualities of these leaders are that they are personally committed to following Jesus in ways that transform the world into something more like the kingdom of God he proclaimed. Vital leaders collaborate with one another, making the most of one another's gifts. And they believe in that God is not finished with the congregation they lead.
  • Vital congregations are convinced that they have a unique calling of God that is evident in the intersection between who they are as a church (strengths, passions, assets, convictions) and where they are (the needs, challenges, assets, culture of the community where they are). They believe that they have everything they need now to accomplish everything God wants them to do now.
  • Vital congregations care more about fulfilling their calling than about being comfortable. They are mission focused. Their calling always involves not only serving people, but inviting the people they serve to become servants as well.
  • Vital congregations understand and embody the fact that sustaining vitality is more like housekeeping than housebuilding. It is not a season of effort resulting in a new or better thing, but a way of living that constantly creates, nurtures and maintains life. The programs and ministries of vital congregations are under constant evaluation and reformation so that they can provide the space where a constantly changing community of people can know a serve Jesus Christ in a constantly evolving mission context.
There is an old fable about the arrival of Jesus in Heaven upon his ascension. “What is your plan to carry on your mission upon Earth?” asked the angels. “I have a small band of men and women to whom I have entrusted the promise and the work,” he answered. “But, what if they fail, as it seems almost certain they shall?” the astonished angels replied. “I have no other plans,” answered the One who has called us.
It would seem to be the most outrageous folly that Jesus has given his promise and work to us if it were not true that we are here together in his name after more than 2000 years. And are we yet alive? Yes, thanks to the always present and usually small band of women and men to whom he has entrusted the promise and the work. It’s a privilege to be among you. See you in the mission field.

Steve also recorded and interview with Rev. Lowell Greathouse as he brought closure to his work. Watch it online.

Steve Ross
Rev. Steve Ross is the Director of the Oregon-Idaho Conference Vital Church Project. Previously he served as Assistant to the Bishop for the Oregon Trail District.