Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase addressed the new church planters in Missouri on November 9 for the last time. For the past couple of months, he’s been doing a lot of things for the last time.
“People keep saying I have a year left, but that’s no longer true,” he said. “My time here gets shorter every day.”
This is Bishop Schnase’s 12th year in Missouri, which means next year he will have to move to a different area according to the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
Bishops are elected and assignments are made at the Jurisdictional Conference in Wichita, Kansas, in July. They start their new positions on the first of September.
Bishop Schnase said his other appointment changes had seemed missional, but this one feels artificial.
“I’m only leaving because of this 12-year rule,” he said. “Everyone has known that I’m going to be leaving for such a long time, it creates kind of a shadow on the conversation of every interaction.”
He began his remarks to the church planters by expressing a deep gratitude for the work they are doing.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are the research and development arm of the United Methodist Church,” he said. “The highest goals of the church – creating new streams of ministry, reaching new people, becoming the more diverse...you are the best tool we have for that.”
Bishop Schnase noted that General Conference is source of anxiety for some, but he encouraged the planters not to worry.
“The ministry we are called to do doesn’t depend on what happens at that meeting,” he said.
Bishop Schnase took questions from the planters. Rev. Willis Johnson of Wellspring in Ferguson said Bishop Schanse had brought the language of fruitfulness to the Conference, and he asked by what matrix he feels fruitfulness should be measured in the church in the future. Bishop Schnase responded by acknowledging the culture challenge all of the planters faced in starting a new church in 2015.
“When I started in ministry you were a regular at church if you attended three to four times a month. Now people who attend once every six weeks identify with your church. That person feels like she belongs. Do we count her somehow?” he said.
“We also have to figure out how to recognize results and outcomes that aren’t measurable. Some parts of fruitfulness are measurable, some are not.”
He added that the hero pastors that he looked up to 30 to 40 years ago were preaching to a monoculture in a single service at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. Pastors today are struggling to reach a new generation whose default position is that all organized religion is irrelevant.
But society has not turned its back on community. Bishop Schnase said that churches might not be crowded on a Sunday morning, but Starbucks are. When he looks around Starbucks, it’s clear that every person there could be doing the same thing at home.
“It’s almost as though they are expressing a yearning for community,” he said.
That yearning doesn’t necessarily lead to weekly attendance, though. Bishop Schanse recalled his own experience of serving in the same congregation for 16 years, and gaining the perspective that some people’s journeys of faith are on a long, undulating curve. He described one member who would be excited about and involved in everything, then he would completely fade from view in the life of the church.
“He was about two and a half years in, and two and half years out. I watched him repeat that cycle that whole time I was there,” Bishop Schnase said. He stayed in touch with him whether he was there or not. The man had personal demands on his time from family needs and from his job that prevented his involvement at times, but he always came back.
Suzanne Nicholson said some people have anxiety regarding whether the new bishop will be a progressive when it comes to starting new churches. Bishop Schnase told her not to worry.
“The Conference culture doesn’t come from a single person,” he said. “Missouri has a long heritage of new church starts. Whoever steps in is going to have to figure out the next steps for congregations. At the time of transitions, people tend to focus on losses, ‘What are the things that are important to me that I’m going to lose?’ We need to keep in mind that we don’t know of the unseen things that we will gain.”