I'm a leader, and I know that casting vision is one of my main jobs. As the leader of churches, God has given me a vision to share. But I don't usually share all or most of it. Why? Because I'm scared. I'm afraid of rejection. I shouldn't be. I should just expect it. Casting a vision usually means inviting people, and an organization to change. People don't like change. They tend to reject it. Why?
Because Change Is Scary
We will reject a change even if it is good for us because what we know is safe. I know I need to change my diet, but I'm afraid of what life will be like without chocolate chip cookies, candy, soda pop, pizza, and all of the other carbohydrate loaded junk I like to eat too much. I know I need to exercise more, but I'm afraid of injury and sleeping less than I do now. Change is scary because it asks us to leave behind something we've become comfortable with and attached to. Even if we can envision life differently, we still can't achieve it unless we're willing to change.
It's also really hard to change habits. We get so set in patterns of behavior that we repeat them without thinking. Even if we think about them differently, we still have a hard time applying it to our lives. It's just easier to stay the same because it's normal. The only way to really have an effect is to create a new normal. Change our thought and behavior patterns. Prayer, Meditation, Learning, Discipline, and Accountability all work together to transform.
Back to Fear, Rejection & Vision
Let's get back to my original thought: I'm afraid to cast vision for fear of it being rejected. I'm just trying to be honest and genuine here. I think part of it is, I'm so attached to the vision that when someone rejects my idea, they're rejecting me. It's as if I'm dumb or naive and don't have a clue (which is probably more true than I'd like to admit).
Besides that, sometimes, the vision that God has given me doesn't make sense to me. I don't understand where the resources are going to come from. I don't see how people would actually believe in that direction for the church. I can hear people's voices in my head shooting it down already. It might cause a division. People might leave the church. People might quit giving. People might stage a coup to get things back to the way they used to be. (What's on your list of fears?)
Even So, Sharing The Vision Is Worth It
What I'm learning and trying to convince myself of is: casting God's vision for the church is still worth it even if those worst fears come true. It's a bit like Jonah and Nineveh. It could be a lot worse if you don't cast the vision. At the end of my lifetime, I won't be held accountable for how many people attended church, how much money was raised, or many of the other numbers we like to count. I'll be held accountable for whether or not I listened and obeyed God. Did I do my best to fulfill what God put in front of me to do? Did I, as a leader, lead people to fulfill God's vision?
Casting the vision is worth it because the opposite of my fears could come true. The vision may cause unity. More people might come to church. People might give more financial support. People might be inspired to take on new ministries. Miraculous gifts might be provided. People's lives might be transformed.
In fact, instead of "might" happen. If it's God's vision, it will happen.
Ever since I first felt God calling me into vocational ministry, I've been aware of the diversity of the Christian faith, and Christ's call for Unity. It is something for which my heart breaks. I long for more unity in the Church. I want to see more collaboration across the congregational and denominational boundaries that we've put up. Even so, my local congregation is always a vacuum pulling me within its own issues and people. It is a constant reorientation towards the community and collaboration with other Christians. I thought it would be a good idea for me to write down why Unity is important to me.
Because God Is One
God's nature is relationship and unity. It is the definition of Trinity, three-in-one and one-in-three, the Triune God. God is not divided against himself, and we shouldn't be either. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is committed to salvation for everyone. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is committed to making all things new. The persons of the Trinity all working together as one for the common vision and mission. Jesus announced it, and he gave us authority to accomplish it. Let's do it, together! God is one and we should be too.
Because God Is Love
This is one of the few places I'll prooftext and say something like, "The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it." Not because of the one or two verses in 1 John 4 (verses 8 and 16) but because when you read the Bible cover to cover, the whole tenor of scripture includes this nature of God: Love. Plus, one of my spiritual fathers, John Wesley, emphasized love as God's defining characteristic. It illumines all the others. God is Love, and we should be too.
Because I Love The Church
I love my sisters and brothers in Christ. I love The Church in all of its forms and by all the different names it goes by: Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, etc. I'm not just saying it. I try to show it. I try to lead my congregation to do the same. I love the Church even though I disagree with some of its individuals. I love the Church even though it's full of sinners and hypocrites. I love the Church because Christ loves the Church, and his Spirit is in me. Love keeps no record of wrongs, so I do my best not to as well. I love The Church, so I love being with other Christians, and want to be around them as much as possible. Especially when we work together on God's mission.
Because Love Unifies
The nature of Love is to bring people together. The fruit of the spirit is Love, not division. Division and fighting is the fruit of evil. When we are focused on conflict and division, we miss the higher calling to love one another. Love bears all things because Love is patient or long-suffering. Love has the ability to overcome our divisions and conflicts and fighting, and bring us together. For me, I think of sports teams. When they have "chemistry" they are unified, working together towards a common goal outside of themselves. When a team is fighting against each other to pad their own individual stats and get more individual playing time, then they lose sight of the greater goal. Or, think of a marriage relationship. When all the couple sees is their conflict, they are against each other, when really, they are supposed to be a team, working together. We too, should be united by our love, working as a team together for God's greater good.
To accomplish the mission
Division hurts The Church's ability to accomplish the mission that Christ has given us. It paralyzes us. We are to be known by our love, not for our fighting and what we are against. We certainly shouldn't be against each other within the church. We should stand together against evil, oppression, and injustice so that people may know Christ's love. Division kills our witness and testimony to Christ's work in the world. Division clouds our message and confuses people about Christianity and God.
I do some ministry on a college campus, and lots of students ask me "What religion are you?" usually meaning "what denomination?". I often have a hard time answering that question and explaining the differences in the brief moments I have. I usually end with "we're open to everyone." My priority is not salvaging an institution, but connecting people with the movement of God, so I have a hard time understanding why denominational loyalty is important. I know why I am United Methodist, and why I continue to choose to practice my faith that way, but more and more, I realize that doesn't make me better than any other Christian out there, just different. In fact, I'm always looking to adopt helpful practices and ideas from other traditions so I can grow in my faith. When I face a differing idea with another brother and sister in Christ, I try to put myself in their shoes, and often respond "you might be right." I hope others would do the same for me.
Unity will show the world what is really important to us, The Church. Instead of being seen as judgmental hypocrites who don't care, we might truly be known as those who Love in amazing unbelievably generous ways. Fortunately, God's mission is not dependent upon our ability to Unite, but also, God's ability to Unite is not limited by us. I just wish we'd be as committed to Loving one another as God is to loving us.
Unity and Diversity are not mutually exclusive. They are not diametrically opposed to one another. Unity does not mean "same." And Diversity does not mean "divided." I believe Unity and Diversity are core values that Christ instilled in his disciples and handed on to the Church. I also believe we are failing. We are divided, and we tend to group together by our sameness. I can't really blame anyone in particular or point the finger and find fault with some individual, or a movement, or a denomination, etc. It has just kind of happened. And it pervades our culture in the U.S.A. as much as it does The Church.
I worry about our country (U.S.A.) and The Church in the U.S.A. because of the division that seems to be prevalent. It seems like everything is either/or. You're either Pro-Life, or Pro-Choice. You're either Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives (Police Officers) Matter. You're either for Same-Sex Marriage or you're a bigot. You're either Republican or Democrat. We have developed this divisive attitude of "you're either with me or against me." And most often, it seems like we find a reason to be against some group group of people.
In the Church in the U.S.A. it seems to be a Evangelical vs. Progressive, Conservative vs. Liberal. And in the United Methodist Church, even those who claim to be "in the middle," who identify with ideologies on both "sides," can't seem to agree. I recently read this post from the "United Methodist Centrist Movement": http://umcm.today/the-true-center-of-the-united-methodist-church/ and it made me sad. It saddened me because it seems like we Christians, in this case specifically United Methodist Christians, have a hard time stating our case and making a positive contribution without tearing down someone else. The UMCM seems to be responding to writings and actions by the Via Media Methodists: www.viamediamethodists.wordpress.com. Both the UMCM and Via Media seem to support Unity and finding a way to work together, but then they tear each other down. What is up with that? I guess this is sibling rivalry among brothers and sisters in Christ, and it's to be expected. But we are playing it out in public for everyone to see. I'm not sure that's what we should be doing.
Like James (you know, that book in the New Testament) says, "This should not be so." People want and need to see Jesus in us. They need to see the power and work of God's Love. Yet, we seem to carry our conversations in such a way that it looks like this:
If you disagree with me, you're not a good Christian.
Or, If you don't interpret the Bible the same way I do, then you're not a Christian. You're a false teacher. You don't take the Bible seriously.
Or, I'm a better Christian than you because I believe X and you don't; therefore, you're not "Orthodox" (or fill-in-the-blank with whatever viewpoint/standard you use).
Or, I'm more Methodist than you because I emphasize this or that Wesleyan idea better.
Can we stop framing things in those ways? This way of doing things divides us instead of bringing us together. I would rather us have an attitude of "sincere love" (Romans 12:9). Like Paul directs in Romans chapter 12 verse 14 "Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them." And then in verse 16, "Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart." Can we have more humility and more building up the body of Christ?
We can get so busy fighting against each other that we neglect the greatest commands Jesus gave us: Love God and Love Others. Those two are so utterly intertwined that it is near impossible to separate them. In fact, scripture in 1 John chapter 4 has a number of verses explaining this connection:
8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love.
I'm not perfect at this. But I'm working on it. By God's grace, I'm working on it. One of the things that has always been appealing to me, from a Wesleyan heritage, is the way that we can hold seemingly opposite ideas in tension with one another. Our culture seems to push us into an either-or distinction, but we need to be the people of both-and, Unity and Diversity.
Christ calls us to Unity, and yet the we the Church don't seem to get it. Every Sunday, we silo off into our separate spaces and ideologies, and we suffer for it. Think of all of the resources at our disposal to change and revitalize our communities if we were joined together and cooperate and collaborate. Surely we could make a huge impact. The love of Christ compels us to work together for the good of all humans, all of creation. But even United Methodist congregations in close proximity have a hard time working together (at least in my experience) and catching a vision that brings us together for the good of God's Kingdom in our community.
Ironically, the path to Unity may be through allowing for more diversity (a local option, or a seemingly more congregational polity, or maybe less polity altogether, a thinner Book of Discipline). I know that by now the phrase "Generous Orthodoxy" (credit to author and church leader Brian McLaren) is laden with progressive baggage heaped on it by many, but can we be more generous with our grace? Isn't the very nature of love generosity? "That God did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all..." (Romans 8:32). There is no way we can out give God, but we should try. Our generosity of love should exceed all of our qualities. We give without expecting anything in return because it's our very nature. I've always been intrigued by the sheep in Matthew 25 whom Christ commends as righteous and to whom he gives the inheritance of God's kingdom. They didn't even realize how good or righteous they were. They just did it. Our love needs to be the same way. Then, the goats, they deceived themselves. They thought they were being good and righteous, but really weren't. Things didn't turn out so good for them. It looks like humility goes a long way towards obeying the command to love generously.
Diversity multiplies generous love. It's a multiplication of the varied gifts and affinities we have to share with people. The ways we are different from each other help us reach people who are different. You can reach someone differently than I can because of your unique gifts and characteristics. We each make up a valuable part of the Body of Christ. Unity also multiplies generous love. It strengthens it because of the sheer numbers working together. Like the proverb says, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12). When we stand together, we stand up to and overcome the forces working against God's Kingdom.
Honestly, I'm not sure what we are so afraid of. 1 John 4 continues the idea of love saying "perfect love casts out fear." Perhaps we should focus more on perfect love, than perfect polity. God has an amazing way of working things out beyond our abilities, and our ability to understand. I wish I had a definitive answer or plan or polity change that would keep us from damaging our Christian and United Methodist witness in the world. The best I can come up with is the scriptures above.
I want to finish up by connecting this to my personal experience. When I hear about the decisions that lie in front of us as the UMC, I can't help but think about the experience of divorce in my family. If an upcoming decision ends up dividing us, I see a similar set of emotions. I'm going to love dearly and have family on both sides, which means I may not feel completely at home with either. Or to put it another way, if I'm forced to choose, then it's like I have to leave behind ones I love, a "damned if you do; damned if you don't" or "catch 22" type of situation. In the end, much like my parent's divorce, the decision will be made and forced upon me to deal with. Fortunately, the future is not yet written. I hope through our conferencing, our love grows on to perfection.
Note: Scripture quotes are primarily from the Common English Bible (or whatever version was in my memory, typically NRSV or NIV).
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.