I have a favorite moment in the movie Apollo 13; it is dear to my heart and serves as a wonderful analogy for those of us in the church. You may remember it: the space capsule is damaged and orbiting the earth; the astronauts are in communication with the ground but only at a distance. There is no face-to-face interaction at all, but it is the responsibility of the ground crew at NASA to help the astronauts make it make home safely.
The ground crew is in a room, gathered around a table looking at possible options, when a guy bursts through the door. His arms are filled with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam – tubes, boxes, and the like. He drops everything on the table and says, “This is all they’ve got up there in the capsule. We have to figure out how to solve this using only what they already have.”
See, I love this moment. As a newly minted minister, it helped me figure out how the church can best function. So often we look at a master plan, or a constitution, or the newsletter from 1987, as a starting point for putting the life of the church together. We look for people to fill roles and needs. This can backfire when there is a gap – and then it can turn sad (*sigh* remember when George was still alive? We always had a clean baptistery when George was alive.) or the panicked (Quick! Tell the evangelism committee to set their sites on a tenor! Preferably one who can also ring handbells!).
But remembering that moment in the movie caused me to have my own realization about the way the church can look. So now, I try to make sure that when someone new joins our midst they start thinking about what it is THEY bring to the table. Then on a regular basis, we all get together and empty our collective spiritual gifts pockets onto the table and we see what’s there. That’s what God has given us – ergo that is what we will use.
Now this can be a crap shoot. For example, I pastor the only church in Kentucky – nay perhaps the country – that has a dearth of sopranos in the choir. No, really. But we press on. We find that there are gifts available that weren't there five years ago; someone offers to design a new logo, start and maintain a Facebook page, empty the recyling bins, teach a course on Myers-Briggs and spirituality. We also find that there are roles that were around twenty-five years ago that don’t need to be filled – and it is a fact that my husband, even as the spouse of the pastor, cannot be the president of the Women’s Mission Circle.
An Apollo 13 approach to church growth and planning may seem a trifle odd. But if anyone can figure out a way for us to think outside our mission statements and our long range plans – it’s sneaky old Jesus.
By Molly Smothers
Molly Smothers is an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination. She has pastored congregations in Harrison and Montgomery counties in Kentucky. She lives with her husband Leon on a farm in Rowan County, where she has been the minister of First Christian (DOC) for the last five years. She enjoys klezmer music, and shaving yaks.