Mockingbird’s roving correspondent has been taking in a lot of church services this Summer, mostly in the Northeast. Some have been excruciating, two have been glorious. Here are ten short reflections on my trip, on how to grow a church in light of what I’ve seen. The most important is the last.

  1. Begin by watching and studying every minute of Red Beard (1965) by Akira Kurosawa. The main character, a physician, played by Toshiro Mifune, is the ideal parish minister. Everything he does is perceptive, right, and plenum gratiae.
  2. Only ever preach one sermon, which is the forgiveness of sins, the absolution of every human “as is”, through the suffering and Passion of the Christ.
  3. Make sure every sermon has at least one arresting emotional illustration.
  4. green+rayRead, mark, learn, and inwardly digest each incident in Theophilus North (1973), the final novel of Thornton Wilder. Theophilus North is the all time handbook for intrepid, effective pastoral evangelism.
  5. Abolish all rules concerning weddings, and also baptisms, and say yes to every request you get. But don’t schedule baptisms, unless they are “in house” cases such as your child’s, for the main Sunday service. Do them privately Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon – the Jane Austen way.
  6. Focus monomaniacally on the casual visitor and seeker, but don’t let them know that. Just visit them or call them (personally) the Sunday afternoon of their visit. But call them after your nap.
  7. Only choose old and familiar hymns for Sunday mornings and make sure you do the choosing, not whoever is the organist.
  8. Never miss a chance to write a thank-you note. It should be an apt postcard from the Morgan Library or some place like that.
  9. Try to visit everyone in their home, even if they seem to resist it at first. Also visit everyone who gets sick when they are in the hospital. This has become one of the hardest tasks of parish ministry, partly because hospital parking lots have become more complicated and partly because hospital security no longer favors members of the clergy. It can still be done, however.
  10. Watch and study every minute, especially the last 15, of The Green Ray (1986) by Eric Rohmer. That movie is a testament to the reality that anyone can be saved, and there’s how it happens.

Don’t Miss: PZ’s Eight Easy Ways to Shrink Your Church!