Enter the masochist

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing (myself included) over the question of church planting in the Unitarian Universalist Association, but I think we set ourselves and each other up for failure. In particular, I’m thinking about minister-organized churches but there are other applications for our failing system.

First, why aren’t there more new minister-organized churches? We have a surplus of ministers, some who want to organize churches, and a few who have tried. In other denominations, it isn’t unusual or is one mission option among many. Many a megachurch began with an entrpreneurial minister. Which brings me to . . .

Second, why is the current culture of the ministry so self-diminishing? The new folk-wisdom of “every minister being an interim” and “it’s their [the laity] church” has become its own dogma, and seems to speak to uncataloged sins in the past. It seems overreactive and would encourage ministerial passivity. (Do any of the seminarians pick up on this? With “ministerial presence” it seems a mixed message: be an attentive, sacificing doormat.) Who would want to call (and pay for) a minister who would be a passive wayfarer? Who would want to be one? Where has this model actually worked?

So enter the masochist-evangelist. He or she can expect little or no financial or technical support from the UUA. I suspect he or she would be treated with confusion (at best) by much of the ministerial college. He or she would be a primary contributor — directly, in lost wages, or both — to the new church. Yet the presumption that that church is less his or hers than any other member. I’ve already rehearsed how vulnerable Christian churches are to de-Christianization in the UUA, so the motive of creating a new Christian church (as a gift to God) is also frustrated. (For this reason, the day I found a church is the day I sever my fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association. I don’t see another option.)

In this system, it makes no sense to talk of an entrepreneurial spirit, because there are no fruits of entrepreneurship. Only a masochist (or fool) would agree to that set-up.

Something has to give, and it seems to me that the only fair solution for new churches is that they be fairly and commonly funded from the beginning. As the general fellowship benefits, so the general fellowship gives. Indeed, the same can be said for an enterprizing set of lay persons or a single congregation that wants to spin off a child.

New churches don’t just happen: they need to be planned and provided-for. We need more supported options for church planting and they need serious financial support.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

One thought on “Enter the masochist”

  1. -There was a time when I thought that new churches with strong pastoral personalities were a bad thing – too proprietary. But I now think that many of us in the UUA mistake proprietary pastoring for strong leadership. The two are not one and the same. And you may have a strong pastoral personality in your church’s leadership, wihtout the church being his/her private kingdom.

    This is doubly confusing to me, since much of UU culture also sees pastoral leadership as optional. And that is most certainly true. But perhaps the real problem is that we have seldom articulated when it is a good idea for congregations to opt INTO pastoral leadership; and we over articulate the virtues of collective lay leadership?

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