Running is like Holy Communion
This past week, I registered to run my first marathon this October in Kansas City. I have an 18 week training plan I found; I'm currently in week two. Part of me is saying, "YOU'RE CRAZY! You're going to put your body through a lot of pain and agony." The larger part of me (is looking to get smaller! LOL, I'm looking forward to the weight loss.) is excited for the added health and well-being I look to gain from this experience. A couple weeks ago, I was out for a jog with some friends, and we got to talking about running, and something like these words came out of my mouth: "I had become something I really didn't like or want to be. Running keeps me healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually." That conversation revealed a lot to me.
When I was in high school, I used to run all the time. I ran some in college, and even less in seminary, until I hardly ran at all. Fortunately, I had one 5k race I would do every fall, and that kept me running at least a month or two each year, but other than that I had become out of shape in more ways than one.
Now that I'm back on a regular running schedule, some things have started to come back to me. I am realizing that the time I spend running is time that I can commune with God. At first, I'll be honest, it was mainly a physical thing, but now that I'm in better shape, I can have the conversations and reflections with God that I really need and long for.
On one such run, I realized that the suffering I go through while running is a reminder of the suffering that Jesus went through on the cross (though His was much more painful and violent). Much like sharing the broken bread and the poured-out cup of Holy Communion is a reminder of Jesus's suffering, death, and resurrection. So when I run, I commune with God, and I am being made new.
Now, every metaphor has its limits, and this one does too. First, running is primarily individual, while communion is celebrated with the church. Next, the suffering of running is self-inflicted and it doesn't compare to Jesus' suffering, nor the vast suffering that goes on in our world today, but for me, pushing my body to its limits and beyond is a reminder of what Jesus and others go through when they face suffering.
One last thought on running, it's a great way to get to know my way around town! Keep praying for us as we begin our ministry here in this new context.
Looking for "Real" Christians
Ok, I have another quick thing I wanted to share about the 2012 session of the Missouri Annual Conference. (Really, I should be packing boxes so we can get moved already!) I just want to mention the clergy session on the first afternoon. The Bishop (Robert Schnase) lifted up an article by Heitzenrater that talked about Charles and John Wesley. At one point Bishop mentioned that the number one characteristic sought in a preacher/circuit-rider/pastor was that they were a "real" Christian, they know God as a pardoning God and have a relationship with God. This seems obvious, DUH! But too often we forget that our number one task is lined out in Matthew 6:33 "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness..."
Louder Doesn't Mean You'll Be Heard
Now that Missouri Annual Conference 2012 is over, I guess I can take time to share my experiences, thoughts, opinions, reactions, etc. If you really want to, you can watch a highlight video here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNQOfHli6OU&feature=youtubeI didn't watch it, so I don't know if it's good or not, but my experience with the people producing it is that it should be pretty good.
This year's conference focused on reaching Youth & Young Adults, which is something we need since the average age of the UMC is around 57, much higher than the US average age (like 20+ years). The choice of the title of the conference was "Louder Than Before: Hearing New Voices." It was chosen because of the song, "Speaking Louder Than Before" by Jeremy Camp. (You can catch the music video below) It's a decent song, and has a great message.
As for our conference using the theme, I hope we didn't mess up the metaphor. I heard the phrase "Louder Than Before" a number of different times, by a number of different people speaking on stage. It struck me at one point that a person could walk away hearing the idea that all we need to do is be louder. I'm not sure that's all we need. It's not going to be enough to just raise our voices and keep saying the same things. It's not going to be enough to just do the same things bigger and use more resources. If anything, we actually need to learn to do new and different things that actually connect with Youth and Young Adults. We can yell and scream and make fools of ourselves until our throats are dry and we're out of energy and resources--just because we're "Louder" doesn't mean we'll be more effective.
I don't want to just be cynical. I don't think that's the message that was promoted at our Missouri Annual Conference. I think the teachings we heard we amazing and pointed us toward doing new and different things/strategies, so we can be more effective. I just want to point out that some people who maybe didn't pay attention very well and just heard the phrase "Louder Than Before" over and over again might walk away with the wrong impression. I pray that doesn't happen. If we really want to be heard, louder might not necessarily be better, but we do need to think more of who is listening and how they hear, and be willing to new and different things. Because it's obvious that what we're currently doing is not working.
The title is partly inspired by the recent USA Today article about 50 years of The Beatles, but actually, we've been saying a lot of goodbyes lately, and we are beginning to say more hellos. In the past week we've started the first step in our journey to our new mission field, St. Joseph, MO.
Saying goodbye is not easy or fun. It's awkward with some people, easy with others, and painful with others. And, in this case, it carries on for weeks, even months. Balance that with all the excitement we have of meeting new people, moving to a new place, into a new-to-us house, and new ministry to explore--and we are on a whirlwind of a transition.
First, it is always a tear-filled time when I say goodbye to one mission field and move onto another. I have invested so much into the lives of the people here, and I've seen how much God has worked in their lives through me. It's unbelievable and hard to leave behind. I also see A LOT more work that God has to do in the life of the people here, and a part of me knows that I could still make a big difference. That's what brings tears to my eyes: leaving behind a work-in-progress. But, I guess we are all works-in-progress.
Then, it is so awesome to be heading to something new. It's perfect and full of opportunity right now. It's a blank slate, ready for me to come in and mess it up---er, I mean...well, you know what I mean. It's so exciting to go and catch or start a wave of God's movement in a new place with new people.
Moving is a lot of work. It's emotional and stressful, and hard to leave. But, we are really looking forward to what God has next for us. We say "Goodbye" and "Hello" in a very short amount of time. I'm choosing to think of it as being "sent." We have been formed and shaped by the people we've spent time with here in Paris, MO, and we carry those experiences with us as they send us on to St. Joseph. We are carrying on the Spirit of Christ, and the we leave behind the Spirit of Christ. Oh, there's another song: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds."
Pray for us, and all of the other Methodist Missionaries who are moving this time of year. BTW, we plan to start an email prayer list soon, so check for the subscribe form here on the site. In it, we can keep you up to date on our prayer requests and what's going on as we embark on this new mission. Thanks for the prayers!
Methodist and Missionary
Yesterday my inaugural post talked a little bit about what it means to be a missionary, and I plan to continue that topic for future posts. Today I want to cover the other part of the title of this blog, "Methodist." I've been thinking lately about what that means. What does it mean to have a Methodist identity?
I'm not talking about being a part of a denomination or a member of a United Methodist congregation. I'm talking about is there a theological/spiritual identity that is Methodist? Are there a certain set of ideas and practices that form me, and others who claim the name, as a Methodist? And how does that impact an understanding of being a missionary or being missional?
I recently came across this site, www.missionalmethodist.org, that lists some pretty good ideas and is heading in a good direction (IMHO). As I think about it, I realize that my experience of Methodist is relatively short, 25-30 years of remember-able experiences. I've also been a student of Methodist history even before I went to seminary (confession: I read some of the Book of Discipline as a teenager). So, I'm no expert on the Methodist experience, but I am a product of it.
There is one part of this identity that I think impacts our understanding of being a missionary: the Methodist Movement started as primarily a renewal movement within the existing church. The Methodist movement began and has existed for most of its lifetime within the age of Christendom. It is a new era now because Christendom is over. The need for renewal is still there, but the need for missionaries is even greater. If you recall your history, John Wesley tried the missionary thing. He came to "the New World" to "convert the savages." It did not go well for him, and he returned to England probably very disappointed and feeling like a failure. Yet, he went on to preach in the open air and bring numerous people to a life-changing experience of Christ while renewing the church. I think missionary work is fairly new territory for the typical Methodist and for the movement (are we still a movement?). I think it changes how we look at appointments, what churches expect of their pastors, and how pastors lead churches, and probably many other aspects (I plan to explore some of those in the future).
I think we were pretty good at Renewal for a while, and renewal is still happening here and there, which is good. I agree with my friend, Rev. Michael Baughman's assessment that we've become dehydrated and we need the living water--a call to holiness and faith. I don't know that we're very good at being missionaries here in the U.S. We need to get better at starting new faith communities, planting churches, and empowering churches to do the same. I found this group called the Upstream Collective, and I read their vision statement. They have this idea that churches can think and act like missionaries. This quote from their strategy document captures what I'd like to see in the local church:
"In many instances, “missions” has been limited to seminary-trained, professional clergy. We believe it’s time to start emphasizing the sending of artists, business people, teachers, lawyers, nurses, coaches and Web designers: ordinary people who can relate to those around them in domestic and international settings, and who do so with the Great Commission in mind."
As a Methodist Pastor, I'm clergy bringing renewal to the church. As a Missionary, I'm an ordinary person sent to bring Christ to the world.
Called to be Sent
When my wife and I were having those deep conversations you have before getting married, we talked about what God was calling us to do and be in the world. We both have hearts that long to serve and please God. We want to see people experience the love of God in Jesus Christ. We see a huge part of that as helping those who are need. We both grew up in Christian homes and were reared in Christian culture. In particular, Shelley, went to a Christian University associated with the Southern Baptist tradition. She noticed how many of her classmates saw the ultimate ministry of a Christian to be overseas missions--those are the real Christians (at least we perceived that kind of pride about it). But we discerned our call differently noticing that there are a lot of people in need of Jesus Christ right here at home.
I'll admit, that at times this felt like a cop-out because it's easy to see how much risk is involved in being an overseas missionary and think "yes, they are a better Christian than me." Or maybe, we weren't taking God's call serious enough, and we need to realize that yes, we are missionaries working for Christ, and not in a competition with our brothers and sisters to see who is better (Mark 10:35-45 comes to mind).
So, here we are in 2012 (after 8 years of marriage and ministry in the United Methodist Church). I've been a Pastor these past 8 years, and I'm finally coming back to the discussion that Shelley and I had at first. I'm turning over a new leaf as we are sent to a new place. I'm focusing on being a Missionary (and being a pastor may be part of that).
This is inspired partly by my home church pastor, Rev. Bob Farr, who recently said "we need more Methodist Missionaries, not pastors." I also have been inspired by the "Missional" movement, which I guess is the new term for Emergent Church (I guess because emergent has come to mean "liberal"--labels, who needs them?). Further inspiration comes from the church planting conferences I've been to.
With this renewed sense of calling, I'm realizing that I haven't had much training to be a missionary. I've had training in Preaching, Bible Study, Evangelism, Worship--all things a pastor needs. But I haven't been trained to be a missionary. I guess I'll have to research it myself. I plan to share what I find and experience here.
So far, I'm realizing that a key aspect of being a missionary (missional) is being sent. My wife and I are beginning a journey to a new place to be among a new group of people and become a part of a community that we don't know. It's exciting and intimidating. As much as we are sent by the United Methodist Church, more importantly, we are sent by God and in the name of Christ.
So, what does it mean to be a domestic missionary? How do I do that? It starts with the faith to go. With that, we have to leave behind some of our comforts, friends and priorities. Yet, I am excited that Christ would gain more followers through our work. Leaving behind the priorities of a pastor who cares for the flock, those who are already followers, to reach out to those who aren't followers of Christ yet. It means I spend more time developing and executing strategies to reach new people than to simply fulfill the expectations of the congregation.
Ready or not Saint Joseph, Missouri, here we come! And to our family and friends, send us forth with your prayers as we
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.