Rev. Anna Lisa Gross, MDiv 2015, currently holds two part-time positions, serving Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Ft. Wayne as Pastor for Faith Formation and serving as Co-Interim District Executive for the District of Northern Indiana. At Beacon Heights, her role is focused on a common barometer of congregational health — ministering to youth and families. At the district office, she is tasked — among other duties — with helping congregations find new pastors. She offers a reminder that the very concept of “professional clergy” should not be taken for granted in a Church of the Brethren context.
“When I talk to congregations about what they need, most people assume that a full-time, paid pastor is the ideal. One hundred years ago, not a single Church of the Brethren member would have felt that way,” notes Gross. “Church leadership has come to be equated to pastoral leadership, and we have lost something along the way.”
Gross speaks from the vantage point of having served several congregations as an interim pastor, as well as assisting churches with transitions as an executive. She has seen many congregations that are so focused on an attachment to a church building that stands in the way of discovering new paths forward. In some cases, she has seen churches be willing to try new things — like changing their patterns of worship or sharing their buildings with other groups — but notes that she has seen several instances that she describes as “beautiful, sincere experiments” that run out of steam after about five years. What is necessary, she feels, is a true revival and renewal in the church.
“I want churches to ask themselves, ‘what would you do if you had no building?’ Congregations need to think about all the other resources they have, and how they can find different types of identity and meaning making. We need to see where the movement of God is going. It is important to remember that while the church is shrinking in white, Western contexts, that is not the case worldwide. I think we all need to be open to truly new possibilities. I think in the future we may look more like the Christians of the first century — on the brink of something new.”