The Pareto Ecclesiology



From the Lead Pastor’s Desk — July, 2017 – Reveille United Methodist Church

In 1896, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted in 1896 the principle that bears his name: that roughly eighty percent of effects come from twenty percent of causes. Pareto noticed that eighty percent of the peas in his garden came from twenty percent of the pods. He also noticed that eighty percent of the land in Italy was owned by twenty percent of the population. This 80/20 rule has been noted in other disciplines, including business (eighty percent of your sales come from twenty percent of twenty percent of your clients) and mathematics (a power law or Pareto distribution).

And the same is probably true in most congregations, and that is not a mere principle. It is a theological problem that twenty-first century Christians must have the courage, dedication, and devotion to confront if our churches are going to accomplish our most basic directive: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Confronting this principle will be challenging, mainly because the challenge is so elusive. For centuries, congregations like ours were able to survive, even thrive with the standard Pareto 80/20 division of leadership and effort. In fact, one can argue that prior to the Reformation, this kind of division was preferable to some in the Western church, as it made more power and influence available to the clergy and less available to the laity.

Fast-forward a few centuries, and things were able to continue to work in Western churches, still following the 80/20 rule. Protestantism, with its emphasis upon and greater valuing of the leadership and contribution of the laity offered more people in churches more opportunities to do more things, so the twenty-percent was comprised of both clergy and lay leadership. And this worked well for awhile. Consider how many congregations in existence in the United States today were founded in the nineteenth century. There was a veritable boom of churches and congregational life. Many hands made light work, and there was much work that was done. It was something of a gilded age for American Christianity.

But then two important things changed that dramatically altered the landscape.

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The Richmond Preaching Fellowship at Reveille United Methodist Church

What8580408850_6d45ee21e6 follows is a dream I have had for the last couple of years, as my time on the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry was drawing to a close. The premise is simple: what if there were a facilitated gathering of persons on the Provisional journey who covenanted together to give each other feedback in love around our respective pulpit ministries, so that we can become the best preachers we can be.

Details can be found below, as well as registration information. If you are preparing for Provisional or Full Connection membership, check it out. I’d love to see you in Richmond. Groups will begin meeting in April.

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The Prayers of the People for 29 January 2017

steeple.001This is, in full, the prayer I prayed at 11:00 on Sunday. It includes words from the sonnet “The New Colossus” by the American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) which was written in 1883. It also includes a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Righteous, just, and merciful God, we gather here in your name this day to praise you for your goodness, your generosity, and your love for all of humankind, and for your affectionate, intimate love for each of us. You truly know us as we are, and still you love us. We turn away from you, yet in your grace, you pursue us.

We gather here, in the sure and certain hope of your steadfast lovingkindness, to lift up our needs before you. We pray for those who are sick and in need of your healing. We pray for those who are grieving and in need of your comfort, those who are dying and in need of your hope. We pray for sinners in need of your redeeming, and for those who doubt who are in need of your light. We pray for the anxious who are in need of your peace. We pray for men and women in the armed forces, especially those who are deployed away from loved ones, and we pray for all people who work for peace and justice throughout the world.

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