My 4 year old thinks it's hilarious, the picture in his Kids Bible of the disciples with flames on their heads. And he is right; the picture is funny. An image of 12 robed men with their hair on fire should strike a child as comical. We tend not to see the humor because we have endowed these men (Why no women in the pictures? They are mentioned in Acts 2.) with mythical qualities. These were REAL disciples: James, Peter, John, Mary! These followers of Jesus appear to us today as larger than life figures. But at the time, they would have been anything but. On that first Pentecost they were a scared group of Christians huddled together for comfort, unsure of how to proceed now that their leader was gone. Know anyone like that?
The first Pentecost has been on my mind lately, not only because we just passed Pentecost Sunday 2010, (It was May 23 for those who missed it. Don't worry; it's not too late to send me a gift.) but also because we've been attending a church that is currently searching for a new minister.
No doubt, many of you have seen similar circumstances. Without a minister to preach on Sundays the duties are handed over to a rotation of lay preachers, retired clergy, seminarians, and whomever else the search committee can shoehorn into the pulpit for a week. This carousel of preachers is only the most visible sign that there is no fulltime or professional leader at work. Behind the scenes church members assemble reports, schedule repairs, pay bills and organize Sunday school teachers.
I've been in similar circumstances before at other churches, and the amazing thing is that most of the necessary work seems to have gotten done. I don't remember any disastrous Sundays--though I do remember some very bad sermons--and I can't recall the power ever being turned off because the bills weren't paid. Of course many of you may know of situations in which churches were forced to close due to a lack of leadership, but I would bet that such cases are rare. My hunch is that churches tend to die on the vine due to a lack of lay participation rather than an absence of a professional minister.