(Or "UU Minister Missionaries Teach Churches to Fly")
In my fantasy "if I ran the world" musings ...
LE's Extension Ministry Program
I used to work in a chain restaurant. Now, the way that many chains work opening a new restaurant, is they have their "Blue Ribbon" team. The best wait staff around the country, the best busboys, cooks, etc. That team goes in, hires the people and trains them. It's a big deal to be part of the "Blue Ribbon" team, and it's reflected in your salary. The restaurant company wants the best of the best to be setting up shop.
Wouldn't it be cool if that were the case with the Extension Ministry program? Now, I know of one church that had a wonderful experience with the program and it really grew their church. I know of another that had a completely awful experience and it damn near killed the church.
So, in my fantasy ...
Number one, the EM program should not in any way, shape or form be seen as a mutually beneficial program in which we have a program to place ministers, AND we have a way to help out churches. Nuh-uh. Two goals can lead to a big mess. Goal: to help churches. Period. Noble goal. Greater good. All that.
Of course, I'm not the first to come up with that idea. In more conservative churches, it's called missionary work. A minister will leave his/her church for a period of time -- often, 1 or more years -- to go work a continent away. They -- and their home church -- believe that they are doing something profoundly important. Saving souls.
So ... a super UU minister leaves his/her congregation for a couple of years, to go help a new congregation in Duluth. It is a sacrifice, both for the minister, and the home congregation. But hey, no malaria!
The minister would be a great minister, with lots of experience. NOT someone straight out of seminary. (This, coming from a seminarian.)
* any minister in the program would have been given special training in the areas of "Training Wheels,+" church growth, and "dealing with people unfamiliar with having a minister."
+Training wheels: many new churches, or churches who have not had a full-time minister, don't understand how to have a minister. They don't "get it." I say this, as a member and former Board officer of such a church. I didn't get it. Does the minister lead the church, or follow the Board's leadership? And writing a sermon, that only takes an hour a week, right? And the minister works for the church, right? So his job is to serve me, a member?
I would love for there to be "training wheels" ministry. Like interim ministry (real interim ministry, not "marking time til we get a minister/I get a perm job" ministry), but with an emphasis on teaching churches what to expect, how to work with a minister, etc.
For "training wheels" ministry, it's absolutely crucial to have a well-adjusted minister who knows how to lead. Someone who isn't going to get his ego hurt; someone who will not put "being liked" before "must ready this congregation for a full-time minister." A minister who is ready to roll up her sleeves and get down and dirty.
Okay, back to Extension Ministry.
Four aspects that must be there for this to work:
1) Understanding by the new church that this is a noble endeavor for all involved. That it involves sacrifice on all sides. Sacrifice from the UUA of funds/energy. Sacrifice from the minister for having to uproot for a period of time. Sacrifice from the minister's home congregation by being without their main minister. Major sacrifice from the new church, who will be expected to give up a lot of evenings/weekends/energy/blood-sweat-tears in order to get their church to be in a position of self-sufficiency, and ready to welcome a new minister.
2) Understanding by the minister that this is a labor of love; only ministers who truly believe that they are being called to save souls and begin a new community that can transform the world should apply.
3) Understanding by the minister's home church that as UUs, we are called to extend our gifts outward, that if we have more thriving UU churches, full of enthusiastic members bent on sharing our UU values, the world will be a better place. You will certainly not get unanimity, but the church as a whole needs to be behind the endeavor. (And along with the greater good, don't you think they'll get back a minister full of new ideas and vision? I do.)
4) Understanding by the UUA that this is missionary work, and that ultimately, the UUA will reap the benefits. They will not only get a new, thriving church, but that church will be full of members who understand the greater UU picture, a church full of members who will be going to UU conferences and GA and workshops (because that will be one of the things the minister will teach them). They would provide for the minister's salary during that period of time, so that there is little chance of "oooh, we don't have enough money to pay you, so after only 9 months, we need to let you go ..."
Meanwhile, the church would be required to pay a growing amount of money into a UUA fund. At the end of the extension period, some of that would go to the UUA as seed money towards the next Extension Ministry endeavor, and a large chunk would go into dedicated savings as a "just in case" for severance pay for the church's first full-time/perm minister, so that the church need never be in the position of saying, "Okay, things are iffy right now financially, I guess we need to let you go now, while we can still afford your severance pay." How often has a church been in an iffy position, only to have a burst of growth, or some other financially propitious event?
Obviously, there's tons of details and unanswered questions in all this. But if I ran the world ...
* Oh, one other detail. I don't know how this would work in. But there should be an element of choice with the above, for both the minister and the new church, in regards to choosing each other. Something other than telling the church, "Here he is ... you can reject him, but then you might lose out on this program." And no punitives for the minister, either, if he senses that they just aren't going to fit each other. That, in itself, is a learning experience for a church. How to choose. And how to learn to trust their instincts.