As I read the parochial reports from our congregations, the word that comes to me is “continuing.” Many congregations speak of a return to some degree of normalcy after the great disruptions of 2020, and yet new challenges present themselves. Perhaps speaking of “normalcy” in the Christian ministry in the 21st century no longer has a great deal of meaning. We face many challenges in the present culture that would have shocked our predecessors, I believe. Nonetheless, the ministers and congregations of the South Central Classis of the RCUS appear very much to be committed to continuing the work of the ministry as they are called. The work of the ministry is for the most part a work of continuation, of the daily, repeated, often mundane work of preaching, administering the sacraments, providing leadership for the church, counseling, loving, and supporting the members of the congregation to which we are called.
I note from the statistical report a small loss in communicant members, something we observed in last year’s report as well. Many of our congregations report outreach efforts, and I believe we are committed to reaching our communities with the gospel, but perhaps we also need to focus more on the other side of the equation as well, of nurturing supportive and loving communities within our congregations, so that people will be drawn to our churches as places of peace and support in a culture increasingly devoid of such spaces. Church growth is not everything, of course, and we know that God gives the increase, but we also know that He works through means, and He has called us to be faithful. Jesus told us that “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” Overall growth comes not only from bringing in new people, but also in preventing the loss of members. No doubt you all have this in mind already, but we all need encouragements and reminders.
But the congregations and pastors of the South Central appear to me to be committed to continuing, to patiently doing the work they are called to. I am very conscious of the fact that my knowledge of the congregations is limited, coming from statistics and parochial reports that can hardly paint anything like an exhaustive picture. There are always challenges and hardships, and these weigh on us, sometimes more greatly than other times. The Scriptures call on us to “weary not in well doing,” but we should also be wise about our own frail natures, and learn to gain the support and strength we need, both through prayer, through reliance on God and not our own human strength, cleverness, or diligence. We pastors often feel a need to project an image of strength, competence, and spiritual health, and yet we all know that we suffer our own failings, foibles, sin, and trials. We have our dark seasons. Perhaps we need to be more willing to admit weakness and seek help and support when we need it.
I also see a need to be in prayer and in intentional effort to raise up new men to the ministry. With deaths, disabilities, and retirements, we have men at the end of their labors; we need new men to pick up the spade and take up the work. As with all things in the ministry, we should not be simply waiting for this to happen on its own, but to be praying, and to be identifying promising candidates in our congregations and encouraging them to the work of the ministry.
This first year of my presidency has been a blessing for me; it is an honor to be able to serve the Classis in this way. It has given me a greater appreciation for those who have done this work in the past. It has also given me a new appreciation for the work our clerks do, and I am thankful for Rev. McGee and all his labors over this last year. One thought that we have had is that it would perhaps be helpful to have additional guidance on the work that each committee needs to be considering each year. Perhaps it would be helpful to put together a committee handbook, or something similar, that would give each new permanent committee a document telling them what they need to be doing through the year, rather than just relying on oral tradition and institutional knowledge as we have in the past.
I thank you for the trust you placed in me to do the work of the presidency this past year. I am honored and privileged to be part of this body, and I pray God’s blessings on our labors this year. May He honor us with wisdom to do the work well,
Rev. Matthew Powell