Measuring success in a church often means numbers: how many members, how many conversions, how many baptisms, how many, how many, how many.
For the Rev. Kali Christensen, though, success is measured a little differently. She measures ministry success in terms of “how much.”
How much of the love of Christ has been shown?
Christensen is pastor of the Communities of Faith Parish in central Minnesota. The parish is home to three United Methodist churches – Clarissa, Eagle Bend and Clotho. Christensen had lived in the area for many years and was well known, having served as a child protection worker for 40 years. She retired in 2016.
She had been a United Methodist lay leader for many years, so when the previous parish pastor retired, moving into the leadership position was a natural transition. She became licensed and called the transition into the pastoral role “smooth.”
Discipleship has been one of Christensen’s primary emphases. She is convinced that being a disciple and making disciples begins with relationships.
She believes it takes spending time with people, talking and listening to them to develop trust. Trust, she said, doesn’t depend on the situation. Whether happy or sad, if there is trust, you can move forward. She said people in the area have known her a long time, have seen that she stuck around when the going was hard, and knew she didn’t leave when situations were tough.
You form relationships and stick around when it gets hard. I think that is the best thing I have to offer as a clergywoman. I know how to do relationships. It’s not always perfect, but at least it’s for real.
“I was raised that way,” she said. “You form relationships and stick around when it gets hard. I think that is the best thing I have to offer as a clergywoman. I know how to do relationships. It’s not always perfect, but at least it’s for real.”
Christensen models discipleship and community for her people.
“We show up for each other when life sucks, and we show up when life calls for celebration,” she said. “Because we bring Jesus with us, he shows up too. You have to live it. People are hungry for community.”
When people show up at one of the three churches in the parish, they are embraced and allowed to use whatever gifts and talents they bring with them. Visitors, as well as members, get plugged in. They may seat people, be part of the music team, whatever. A young boy who had just started taking piano lessons from the church organist came to the service one Sunday. She let him join her in a duet the following Sunday morning, with him playing only two notes as she played the rest. He felt like a million bucks!
This summer the three churches have been meeting together on Wednesday nights, inviting neighbors from other denominations to come join them. The theme of the Wednesday night conversations has been “Where does Jesus show up in your life?”
They have about an hour of music, a devotional, and prayer. Following that, they eat and fellowship together, sharing life stories.
In addition to Christensen, a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest and other people have led the discussions. Knowing that other people outside their own churches have a relationship with Christ has been fresh and healthy. They all see they are part of a greater community of believers.
The people in the Communities of Faith parish do discipleship well. They start with relationships, then tell how Christ makes a difference in their day to day lives. As they share, they teach, and as they teach, people are changed.