The police department in the center of town was a brick, two-story complex. It looked like an office building. I figured I was in the right place because there were police cars in the parking lot. Trying to appear more confident than I felt, I wandered around the building and pulled on the doors. All the doors were locked. My cool charade could only last so long in Kentucky’s August heat. Just in time, I heard a familiar voice. He told me that I was in the right place and showed me the way to the meeting. This was the gathering place for the ministerial association in this community and my first meeting. It felt so foreign to me.
I was an outsider, and I was painfully aware of it. That first meeting at the police station will be seared on my memory forever. I was hopeful that this would be a place of comradery and joy. Instead, the pastors around the room were not making eye contact with me. I didn’t say much. I smiled, but my smiles were not being returned. The atmosphere was somber. There have been environments throughout my years of ministry when I recognize that simply being who I am — a female and a pastor — puts me on the outside. At this meeting, I felt more like an outcast, an imposter, a pariah than I ever had before. The 10-minute drive home was filled with tears, ranting, and crying out to God.
The meetings only occurred once a month. I talked to God about my need to return the next month. I had no other good reason not to go, so I went. At this point, I kept showing up simply because one of my mentors once said, “The very first thing you do when you become pastor in a community is you get to know other pastors, and you pray that God would abundantly bless their ministries.” That mentor always offered words that I could trust, so I went.
It was customary for the association to ask a newly appointed pastor in the community to preach at a community service. I remember a particularly painful meeting when they chose another pastor in town to preach rather than me. I cried on the way home again. It seemed especially harsh to me given that I was the only newly appointed pastor in the community who attended the meetings. All of the other names discussed had not been active in our association. In the middle of my lamenting and ranting, God gently spoke to me. My thinking about this group had been all wrong. God was sending me to be present with them to encourage them. It was my ministry to them, not their ministry to me, which was to be significant. God assured me of His presence with me. I was being called into new relationships in order to bless. The discomfort that I felt during the meetings did not immediately change. Nevertheless, I knew that if God was calling me to bless the other pastors in my community, I could do it because He was with me.
This new mission that God and I were on together also spurred me to reflect on some broader issues. Churches and their pastors are often puzzled by what it takes to reach out in their communities. “How do we reach people in our community?” This is a question about methodology. This nagging question is especially urgent for churches that have stopped growing or are in numeric decline. I’m convinced that this question about methods of reaching people is really important; however, it is not the most urgent question.
I’m convinced that the question about outreach would answer itself if churches and pastors would tend to a more fundamental question.
The fundamental question is: Are we blessing others, and are we becoming people of blessing?
This shift in thinking is similar to what happened in me in relation to the ministerial association. My initial thinking was: What am I going to get out of this? How is this going to benefit me?
Churches that are seeking a gimmick to ease their anxiety about decline are prone to similar thinking. We search for outreach methods that will alleviate our pain.
This call to be a people of blessing is fundamental and has deep roots in Scripture. The people of Israel were given the mission to bless, which flowed out of their identity as people whom God had richly blessed. They were blessed people in order that the whole world might be blessed. The call of Abram (Abraham) shows this clearly as the Lord said, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2, see also Genesis 21:1-7).
God’s people fail at being people of blessing routinely and miserably, but the mission of God for them and us never changed. Indeed, in the person and work of Jesus, we see all of the blessing of God available to anyone who will receive. It is Jesus Himself who urges His people, as His body on earth, to be salt and light wherever we find ourselves.
Consider this process for becoming a blessing. This process is not necessarily a formula, but it is a pattern I have practiced. As you will notice from my story about learning to bless fellow pastors in my community, it takes intentionality and perseverance. It is an interactive process, which means the most important aspect of it is the first step: prayer. It also takes practice. Becoming a person of blessing is an exciting journey, and it has changed all my relationships. As I partner with God on this mission, my everyday interactions with family, friends, co-workers, other pastors, neighbors, and even strangers in my community are filled with joy. I am paying attention to how God will bless others.
BLESS is an acrostic developed by my friend Marlow Washington as he led his church toward reaching out. B – begin with prayer. L – listen to others. E – eat together. S – share stories. S – serve others.
Begin With Prayer
Begin with praying for others. Immediately after hearing God’s call to bless the other pastors in our community, I committed myself to constant and fervent prayer on their behalf. I recruited others in my church, the majority of whom were teenagers, to begin praying for the churches closest to us. We prayer-walked the properties of other churches. We prayed for God’s richest blessing on them. We prayed for power and provision. We prayed for a sweet sense of unity in the body. We prayed for anyone who needed encouragement, help and healing. On one of our prayer adventures, people were leaving the church building as we arrived. They invited us inside, and we prayed for the congregation. It has been over two years since that happened, and, to this day, people approach me with gratitude and amazement toward God for bringing us to them. We know that partnering with God changes the atmosphere, and, as we have prayed for and with so many from other churches, we see how God sends us where we need to go.
Praying for God to bless other churches also helps us see God’s heart for them. Churches down the street are not our competition, nor are they our enemies. Those who meet in buildings with different sorts of names on the sign, who sing different sorts of songs than we sing, and who read from a different translation of Scripture than we do are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Another clarifying insight came as I earnestly prayed for those in my community. On my own, I might pray for God to fix “those” people. I can think of hundreds of things that they are wrong about and ask God to make all of those things right. I am now asking God to reveal truth to all who seek. God reveals significant needs of the others, and I get the privilege to partner with God in meeting those needs.
Listen to Others
The second step is linked with the first. When we are able to hold people in the light of God and get a glimpse of how our Heavenly Father delights in them, we are more inclined to listen to them. After I began earnestly praying for the other pastors in my community, I noticed that listening to them was not as difficult as it had been. I noticed that I was able to see life from their point of view, and I was able to be honest about who I was without shrinking from fear.
Ministerial association meetings began to be more pleasant. I felt less nervous and more engaged. Two years ago during the October meeting, we were discussing having a pulpit exchange. I remembered how awkward a previous meeting had been when the subject came up. At that time, I was sure that there were a few people around that table who refused to exchange for fear that when they drew a name out of the hat, they would get “the woman.” There were a few new faces at this particular meeting, and as one man introduced himself, I knew immediately that I would like him. He said that he was born and raised in our county. His people had lived here for many generations. In addition, he shared that he felt like God was prompting him to be more involved in our ministerial association, and so he came out of obedience after having been absent for almost 10 years. After a few minutes of discussion regarding the pulpit exchange, I spoke, “This is a great idea. I really want our church to be involved so what I will do is write the name of my church down instead of my name. This means that if someone draws our church name out of the plate and they know that a woman would not be welcome in that pulpit, then we will gladly send another one of our preachers there.”
The next moment, my new friend lunged forward, embracing the table as though it was a pulpit and exclaimed in my direction, “Sister, you can preach in my pulpit any day!” I was shocked and almost speechless. The words came: “Thanks so much, my brother. I am honored and would be delighted to preach wherever I am invited.”
In that moment, there was a crackling of the atmosphere. The other pastors laughed, and they all turned and smiled at me. I was being adopted into that circle.
Eating is an obvious way to share friendship and food together. I have noticed that as God changes my heart toward others, I am eager to share what I have with them. Giving and receiving meals blesses all involved. Several weeks after the pulpit exchange, we visited my new friend’s church, and he spontaneously asked me to preach from his pulpit. As I preached one of the messages that had been brewing in my heart and mind during that season, it became beautifully clear to me that on that particular Thanksgiving Sunday, I was grateful for brothers and sisters in my community who welcome strangers such as me. We have eaten with our new friends on several occasions.
Sharing stories also naturally flows from a life that is intent on blessing. We pray for others. We care about others. We listen as they share, and we offer some of our experience with them. Now that I have been on this journey with this group of people for the last two years, I have grown in my ability to love them. I have grown in my ability to partner with them in bringing the good news to our community.
A few months back, I was asked to consider serving as president of this group of pastors. I agreed, but not because I think I am the most qualified. I am serving because it is a way I can further bless my community.
Serving others requires time and energy. It fits best as a final step in the process because serving is most effective when done with the right kind of heart. For instance, if I had tried to preside over the ministerial association without first praying and listening, it would have been frustrating and unproductive. If I approached my role as something that I could do independently, not wholly relying on God to make possible what is impossible, it would not be beautiful and good as it is now.
You are invited to partner with God in order to be a blessing today.
Roberta Mosier-Peterson is the senior pastor of Oakdale Free Methodist Church in Jackson, Kentucky. Her Northeastern Seminary doctoral dissertation is being adapted into “Lived Experience,” a documentary film covering the ministry experiences of women pastors. Go to pastortiedye.blogspot.com for more of her writing.