In the Episcopal Church in Minnesota we have been experimenting and experiencing a type of shared leadership in congregations. Whether we call it Total Ministry, Shared Ministry, Ministry of the Baptized or Shared Leadership it continues to grow, to inspire and to revitalize our way of following Jesus to God.
This past weekend we gathered at a conference center for our annual consultation of shared leadership participants. We heard presentations. We prayed together. We broke into small groups and shared with one another how our work is going; some needing advice, some giving advice. We ate together. We told stories. We laughed. We cried. We loved the companionship of folks who are living out their call from God in mighty, marvelous ways.
There are people in small congregations who are known in their communities for feeding anyone who shows up at a monthly community supper on Friday nights. There are people who serve at our cathedral as pastoral care givers, teachers, spiritual guides and will be commissioned as an official team soon. There are congregations that have formed a kind of partnership and called people to serve on a ministry team for leadership in both congregations. And so it goes. Many types of leadership, people using their talents, God-given gifts to serve in many ways.
What we do to prepare our leaders is pretty much what Jesus modeled for the leaders he was training. We have often found ourselves wondering what astonishing change could take place if humanity could practice these three things: Feed each other generously. Speak the truth kindly. Give thanks.
As ministry teams we gather on a regular basis and there is food. We spend part of our time together sharing this food, conversation, laughter, catching up with each other. Each team handles this in their own way depending on where and when they meet. It’s an important part of becoming a team.
We delve into many topics about scripture and story, tradition and customs, spirituality and prayer, and blessings and challenges. We learn to speak our own truths to one another. We identify truths about God and the presence of Spirit in our lives. We learn to trust one another and to begin to move into the future as faithful friends of Christ.
We focus on the Grace that God has bestowed on all humankind. We give thanks in all things. We gather and give thanks because giving thanks helps us to maintain “hearts for love.” We give thanks because we know that maintaining a thankful heart gives us a generous spirit; which closes the circle of the three things. When we feed each other generously, speak the truth kindly and give thanks in all things the result is love. And where there is love, there is God.
I wouldn’t want to suggest that the above way of life is easy. In the nearly 20 years we have been practicing this type of ministry we have had many difficult moments. In its elegant simplicity it remains challenging for human beings to live this way. We have also had thousands, maybe millions of moments when the presence of God has been palpable in the room. So the benefits definitely outweigh the challenges as God goes before us preparing the way.