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Pastor’s Column: “Should we just get faster horses?”

Being a pastor means that I’m constantly thinking about leadership: both my own of leading the congregation well in worship, and the lay leadership as they do the hard work of ministry all other hours of the week. Leadership makes a tangible difference and vacuums of leadership lead to chaos without accountability. It’s important for me to lead well and to offer as many opportunities and shared experiences to build up the already-stellar leadership of our church.

I’m reminded of the American industrialist Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company. For all his faults and successes, he does have some insightful quotes that even religious communities can find inspiration in. Here’s two of them and why I find resonance with them.

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.

The truth of this statement is that people follow and lift up one another when the work has been done. I think this is why when I tell other Methodists that I’m your new pastor, they get a little wide-eyed. It’s not about me! It’s that this church has done the work of offering their building as a shelter for decades. This church has done the work week after week of Shared Breakfast.

This church has done the work to be Reconciling and proclaim God’s inclusive love for all people. This church has done the work of remaining committed to the urban core of Seattle when we could have gone to easier contexts elsewhere.

First Church has an incredible reputation and one you should be proud of and I’m thankful that you participate in it.

The second quote is this one:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’

Ford is referring, of course, to his mass-marketization of the combustion engine and bringing automobiles to most households in America. His claim is that the wisdom of the crowd is often to incrementally change it rather than revolutionize it. Ford had a vision of something greater than horses. The goal of a vision is not incremental changes but to find the revolutionary change that will transform everything. And he did, for better and for worse!

I suspect that if Jesus asked the people what they wanted, they would have said “more freedom from Roman oppression” and “more ethical religious leadership.” While both of those would have been of tremendous help, they were both incremental changes to the world that they knew. Jesus instead offered eternal life to all and a revolutionary way to transform society into one with peace and justice.

While Jesus was offering a
vision and a mission far beyond what regular humans could offer, it is still a goal that the Church should seek. I’m not satisfied with increased worship attendance, increased volunteerism, or increased giving. Those are great and appreciated! But my vision is to make our Church a leader in the Church that is to come. It will take years of work, but it is a viable mission for us to accomplish together.

Together we are continuing our reputation at First Church, but not resting on it. Together we are building the next iteration of church in the Pacific Northwest, but not forgetting what makes us great now. I’m glad to be on this journey with you.

Blessings and see you Sunday,




Rev. Jeremy Smith