Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The church has lost some giants in recent days, Fred Craddock and Ira Galloway and Lyle Schaller. The latter two died within a few days of each other, both at the age of 91. They were significant leaders in the church, Lyle as a sociologist-consultant, and Ira as a pastor-leader. I knew Lyle primarily through his books, but also because my good friend, Ed Tucker, “Friar Tuck,” illustrated his books. I also met Lyle at various church gatherings, and got him to spend a day with SADMOB. I knew Ira primarily through SADMOB, and in general because we were both pastors in the Central Illinois Conference of the UMC.

What I want to say about these two important leaders, Schaller and Galloway, is too long for one CIW, so I’ll talk about Lyle today and Ira tomorrow, both in the context of SADMOB.

SADMOB stood for Senior And Directing Members Of Bigchurches, and Lyle was one of the influences that caused me to call it into being.

The other was The Academy of Parish Clergy, APC, of which I was once president. It was founded by Granger Westberg as the first continuing education forum for clergy. Westberg worked in hospital settings and realized that just as physicians needed continuing education, so did pastors. The one group of clergy that did not have a professional organization that provided continuing education was parish pastors. Hence, APC.

I learned in APC that the real experts in parish ministry are those who practice it, and that we can learn from one another if we “share the practice,” which is the title of APC’s quarterly journal. That is a hard thing to get across to the church, even to pastors. Go to any conference for clergy, including the annual APC conference, or a seminary commencement, and hardly any leader will be a pastor. They are always professors or administrators or consultants or journalists or street walkers. Pastors can learn from all those folks, but if you go to a conference of professors or street walkers, they never have pastors as leaders. The ONLY people we assume can teach us nothing about how to lead the church are those who actually do it. 

I learned from reading Lyle Schaller that the big churches [distinct from mega churches] were declining rapidly, and that no one was paying attention to a loss that would be tragic for the church and impossible to reverse. Even county seat towns, especially in the Midwest, had “big” churches, a thousand members or more. Small cities, with names like Springfield, might have several. They were big, but out of step. They were downtown and had no parking. They had traditional buildings that cost a lot to maintain and were single-use and did not adapt easily to praise bands and movie screens. They grew large when they were main street; now they were back street. People started going to new church start-ups, beyond the edge of town, with lots of parking, or stopped going altogether.

I was pastoring one of those big churches at the time, and I decided to do something about the problem. I did not go through the church hierarchy. I just called the pastors of the big churches in our conference and said, “Let’s get together and learn from one another how better to lead these churches.” Every one of them came, including Ira Galloway, the pastor of Peoria First, the largest church in the conference, around 4 thousand members. We decided to meet monthly, with each one taking a turn leading, telling us how he [they were all male at that time] did a particular area of ministry. The one exception to that leadership style was when we had Lyle Schaller come.

It was a great day. We had a good time. We learned a lot from Lyle Schaller, and I am grateful for his leadership in the church over many decades. It was he, when asked about using church consultants, said: “The church already has a great consultant system in place. It’s called pastors.”

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

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