A recent phone conversation with a pastor revealed a unique ministry. The pastor told me about their “teacher’s group.” “Do you mean your Sunday School teachers?” I asked. She explained “No, this is our group of elementary public school teachers. They get together once a month to share classroom ideas. It is not a support group. It is a working group. Our church has a group for sports coaches too. And a parenting group. You might say we’re becoming a resource center.”
Many congregations work on matching their members with volunteer opportunities. There is a constant need for congregations to fill volunteer positions, such as greeters, coffee hour hosts, nursery attendants and so forth. Such efforts often include completion of member talent forms and data entry of the information into the church membership database. Congregations will advertise this matching of individuals with tasks as “people living out their calling.” After all, it doesn’t matter if your congregation is large or small, there is a need to recruit, train, and encourage members to help with the never-ending list of responsibilities. This is one form of resourcing.
What would it mean for a congregation to be a resource center for people’s lives, not just another organization needing, pleading for volunteers? A congregation – of any size – can take on the greater purpose of helping people increase their personal impact regarding life endeavors.
The congregation with the teacher’s group seeks to support participants with their vocation. The group, sponsored by the congregation, buoys adherents in a life arena beyond the threshold of the congregation. It is not congregationally focused. It is life focused. The end is not support of the congregation’s operations, but the support of people as they seek to live meaningful lives. So many congregants, because of their religious claims and commitments, want to live beyond daily demands and make lasting contributions to their families, their neighborhoods, and elsewhere.
What would it take for a congregation to function as a curator of resources and social networks that helps people live more fully into their hopes and dreams? There are resource centers that help congregations with their challenges and opportunities. What if congregations functioned as resource centers to help members with their life challenges and opportunities?
A successful entrepreneur wants to give some of his profits to a group in his city that is making a difference in the public schools. The listener, knowing the entrepreneur is a person of faith, asks him whether he has talked to his church about how he might find a mission match for his funds. He replied, “I’m afraid they would think I’m not religious enough, because I’m thinking of giving the money to the schools rather than to the church.”
A congregation can be structured to support members in finding conversation partners that will help them live out their God inspired mission as it relates to their family life, their vocation, their support of the common good beyond the congregation, and much more. A conversation partner or a resource might be a book, a person with expertise in the particular issue, or a group of people who share the same goals, a website; any source of knowledge and wisdom that will further the congregants impact regarding the subject of interest.
I think it is possible for a congregation to be a resource for its members’ focus on serving for the good of God’s world. In such a setting, a clergy would now add to his or her role of preacher, teacher and leader, the role of curate. Curate is a word that used to describe clergy. Though the word has been used differently in various historical contexts, a curate is one devoted to the care or cure of souls of a congregation. A key aspect of caring for souls is helping people develop the capacity in others to live life more abundantly, and to have greater positive impact on others as a result of their activities.
In recent years the word curation (derived from curate) has been applied to those who host websites that gather resources about specific subjects. , For example, there are many websites that display blogs and other forms of information about medical conditions, hobbies, social services, professions, and more. In these cases, the act of curation, the gathering and vetting of resources, is helpful to those seeking more information about these subjects. The best of these websites do more than provide data, they provide information and internet mediated relationships that improve quality of life.
A congregation could become a curated public space for any number of life interests.. Such a stance would acknowledge the congregation as a proper social network, an organic assembly. This outward focus for the congregation would require curates, who are adept at social networking, in terms of managing relationships and in terms of technology. It would require listening to parishioners in a way that picks up on what they most care about and about what they most want help.
Congregations are sanctuaries of knowledge. In addition to life interest resource groups, congregational leaders could play a mediating role in connecting members with others who share their interests, , or linking college students with professionals in their area of study, or publishing an annotated reading list of community issues in online newsletters.
Congregational leaders and congregants know a lot about life. They may not be experts about every subject, but they often know who to talk to, what to read, where to go about any number of life issues. How might your congregation harness this knowledge for the good of more people?
“So, do you know what the teacher’s group is working on?” I asked the pastor. “Sure,” she says. “They are reading through a Parker Palmer book I suggested to them. Who knows what they are cooking up?”
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