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).
There are many types of different non-active Christians. There are those who used to be, but were hurt or turned-off by the church. There are those who went to church as a kid, but never really owned the practice of faith for themselves. There are those who have never had any connection to Christianity except for what they've seen, read or heard from others; and even then, that is probably very little. I want to focus on this last group, which may be harder than I realize. But, I think if I focus on that group, I can probably pick up some of the others along the way. (I suppose I could be wrong about that.)
Do You Connect?
I have a lot of questions about what life is like for a non-Christian, mainly because, I've never really been one. I was born into a "Christian home". My dad is a United Methodist, and my mom was raised Roman Catholic, and my step-mom was raised Church of God (Anderson, a holiness church). I was baptized as an infant, and raised in the church. My dad is a more charismatic type of United Methodist, and he took us to other denominations' (or non-denominations') mid-week services that had different worship experiences than our Sunday mornings. I was active in my United Methodist youth group as a teenager, and in inter-denominational Christian ministry. My friends were mostly Christians of some sort: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. I went to college and was involved in the United Methodist Campus Ministry, the First UMC, Campus Crusade for Christ, Campus Christian Fellowship, etc. I've read the Bible pretty much since I was old enough to read, and I've always thought of the voice in my head as an ongoing prayer conversation with God. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is about all I know. I'm not perfect at it, but I can talk the talk and walk the walk...in my sleep. I'm NOT saying this to brag. I'm saying this because I realize how different I am from the Mission Field. I'm realizing that in many ways I live an insulated life, in a "church bubble."
My language is different. My priorities are different (to a degree). The things I think about are different. The books I read are different. How I want to raise my kids is different. How I choose to spend my money is different (again, to a degree). My general worldview is different. I don't fit-in to one particular political party. I listen to different music and radio stations. Out of all of these, I think the biggest differences that impact my practice of ministry is Language and Worldview.
In order to connect with the mission field, I need to be able to speak the language. And, I need to talk about things that people care about. If I can't do those two things, then it will be almost impossible for people to hear me. Fortunately, I hope (and know) The Holy Spirit can make up for my lack of connection. But I still want to do my best to connect, especially with the language I use. Too often, I use "churchy" words, or overly-theological concepts. How do I translate the good news of Jesus Christ to language people can hear, both actions and words?
You're not THAT Different
Truthfully, in many ways, I'm not that different from the mission field. Since I'm serving in the Midwestern United States, and only an hour from my hometown and place of birth, I can identify with a lot of the people around me. I'm a white, middle-class, American, and so are most of the people in my community. There is a lot of overlap in language, music, priorities, and worldview. Emphasizing those gives me a way to connect. Probably the biggest connection I can make with someone is that we face similar struggles, and together, with Christ, we can make it. That's good news!
How do you overcome a lack of connection with the mission field? Simple: Get Connected! Find ways to make friends with those you're trying to reach. Make sure it's true friendship and not just a means to an end of "conversion" so you can get another notch in your belt and feel good about yourself. The real motivation here is Love, God's love. Find ways to run in different circles, become friends with people in your community (people outside your church attendance/membership) and learn their language, priorities, worldview, struggles, etc. Walk with them and guide them to follow Jesus Christ. Of course, this means you have to be doing your best to follow Jesus too.
I'm not really an expert on this. I'm learning as I go. Will you help me? How do you make new friends and connect with the mission field? How are you investing in people's lives? How do you cross cultural barriers? How do you overcome self-made barriers, or a lack of confidence in the ability to connect with strangers? How do you escape getting caught in "churchy" language?
What ideas do you have, or what has worded for you? What have you read that helps you with this?
If you haven't made reaching your mission field a top priority in your following of Jesus Christ, then I highly suggest you consider it and think deeply about these questions. Why? Because God's love compels you.
Growing up evangelical, I was taught that saving people from eternal torment in hell was why telling people about Jesus was important. Now that I've been shaped by more voices and experiences, that doesn't seem to be good enough anymore. In fact, "turn or burn" preaching seems to be a real turn off to most people, adding to the perception that Christians are judgmental and condemning. Besides, as effective as it is, I have never really thought that using fear as a motivator is ethically or morally correct. Meaning, I don't think God wants us to use fear to motivate people.
Let's take a look at the question: "Why is reaching the lost important?" First, who is "the lost." That's pretty judgmental to assume that some one or a group of people are "lost." What does it mean to be lost? In a literal sense, it means some one who doesn't know where they are, or how to get where they want to go, or maybe they don't know where they're going. In Christian circles, I've heard some say it means "people who don't know Jesus." I thought this for quite a while, and still do to a degree. The more I think about it "lost" isn't a judgment of someone's character or pre-eminent eternal destination if they're not "found." I tend to think of lost as "naive" or part of unjust systems without knowing it. In this sense, we are all "lost"...almost hopelessly. We all participate in unjust/sinful systems without knowing it, and many people bury their heads in the sand. We go through life trying just to be "ok" and survive with some enjoyment here and there. Occassionally, we may become aware of how we participate in unjust systems, but we find a way to push it aside, deny it, and get back to being "ok." Could this be what it means to be lost?
I think most people come to a place where they realize just how lost they are. You get to a point in life and you think, "How did I ever get here?" Then we find a way to get back to "ok." We buy some more stuff, or change jobs, or move to a new place. We change our relationships even through difficult things like divorce. All trying to find some kind of existence that's "ok."
What if, Heaven is real, and there's more than just "ok"? What if all of this stuff we're using to feel "ok" is keeping us distracted from the reality of the kingdom of heaven? What if we've been led astray by shiny things that promise to make us "ok" when really, there's abundant life breaking in to every moment all around us? This abundant life isn't things that decay and fade, but things that last: love, joy, peace, hope.
For me, reaching the lost is urgent and important, not because I'm afraid God is angry and going to punish and torture them eternally, but because with each breath, and each day that passes is a day they're missing out on The Kingdom of God. It's another day they're missing out on The Abundant Life (John 10:10) that Jesus brings us. It's another day of missing out on the deep joy of life with Christ. It's another day of missing out on the celebration of heaven.
I don't want anyone to miss out on another day of life with Jesus Christ. I don't want anyone to miss out and live another day without the radical, extravagant Love of God in Jesus Christ. I don't want anyone to miss out on another day of 'real' heaven. Heaven on earth that is already here, but not yet complete. That's why sharing my faith and showing God's love is important and urgent.
Since last night and in the days leading up to the announcement that the grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for fatally shooting young Michael Brown, I have seen numerous people encouraging peace in Ferguson. A number of my friends responded to last night with simple calls on social media to "pray for peace." I think we need to be careful about that because it too easily sounds like "get back to normal."
Another quick thought about United Methodist Camps in Missouri. I know I was the one who said, "nobody cares." I clarified what I meant. In fact, I think there are those hurt by this change that have felt like "nobody cares" in the sense that those in power aren't listening and don't care. I've heard it said that by the way this change was done we have offended a whole generation (not really, just those with a connection to our camps, this generation is way bigger than that). I've heard that we will lose our future leaders because of these actions. And the conclusion is that "they" don't care. You can feel that and say that, but don't believe it. I need you to know that "they" do care.
I understand you're grieving and upset over the loss of a physical place and what you're used to. I understand we are upset for how this change was made because "I didn't get a say in it" (many of us didn't get a voice or vote). But don't let your anger trick you into thinking that the people of the camping board, Rev. Garrett Drake, and Bishop Schnase don't care. They care deeply, and are sincerely and fervently committed to reaching the next generation.
For example, Rev. Jon Spalding is on the Camping Board and was involved in these changes to some degree. If it weren't for his commitment to youth ministry, I may not be the Christ-follower I am today. When I was a teenager, he was one of the pastors who chose to sacrifice some of his precious time to invest in teenagers like me. I know he cares deeply about reaching the next generation.
This change is saying, we care so much about reaching the next generation, that we are willing to let go of something we are very attached to. Something that is very valued and has done us a lot of good. Something we know that God has used to reach numerous people. It is truly priceless. We are willing to let it go so that we can do even better.
See, the question that keeps coming to mind is, why aren't people giving their lives to Christ in our churches like they do at camp? We have way more churches than camps. We could be multiplying the kingdom of God in much greater ways through our congregations. To be totally honest, this question is very convicting of ME. For the last 8 years, I have poured time and energy and efforts and my friends and my own funds into leading a week of church camp to reach teenagers for Christ, teenagers who usually have some church connection already. What if I poured that same time, energy, effort, and money into reaching the teenagers in my neighborhood and local schools? What if I poured that same amount of resources into meeting teenagers who have no connection to a church or Christ? What if I did that and they gave their lives to Christ in my church and were baptized? What if their parents and siblings came too and gave their lives to Christ? If just 10 new people, who never knew Jesus came to have faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior in my church this year, that would revive and renew my church in ways of which I've only dreamed. Maybe it's because I put my efforts into what I've always known and what's safe for me, instead of taking the risk to truly reach those of the next generation who aren't connected to a church and don't know Jesus Christ.
We do care, a lot. We are committed to engaging and reaching the next generation, and we will.
(Writing that last full paragraph breaks my heart because there's only three and a half months left to 2015, and I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that not even one person who doesn't know Jesus will give their life to Christ in either of the churches I serve. I have tears right now. I know this because I fill out the reports every year. Most of the baptisms are infants, children, or confirmands. Most of the new members are transfers or people who are already baptized Christians. If my one job is to be a missionary and lead people to Jesus Christ, and that's not happening, then what in the heck am I doing?)
Ok, I'm a fairly new blogger. So I don't really know exactly what I'm doing. But I'm finding that I've made a mistake here. I used an inflammatory title and phrasing to get clicks, readers, and a response. Unfortunately, doing that has misconstrued what I am trying to say and accomplish. Yes it got me noticed. But it did not end up representing myself well. I'm not backtracking on my ideas, but I am sorry for how I chose to express them. It was offensive to those who are deeply grieved, and it gave the impression that I don't care. I do care, a lot. That's why I am writing about it publicly.
Having had some more time to think about it, I would like to summarize my main thoughts about this change to MO UM Camping. ALSO, I will be an equal opportunity offender because I have another post I'm working on that would probably offend the "other side" (I don't like splitting this into sides because we are one church, one team) as well. Here's the summary:
This Surprises And Hurts
I do think/feel the communication of this was handled poorly. It does feel to me that there was a lack of transparency in how this decision was made and carried out. All of the truth may have been told, but because of the way things were communicated it gives the impression that we may never really know. Although, I'm not sure there were many other options when it comes to a change/decision of this magnitude.
The decision to close campsites hurts me and all of those who are and have been connected to United Methodist Camps in Missouri. I had God-experiences (and other memories) at 3 out of 4 of these camps both as a youth and an adult. So I'm not overly attached to one campsite in particular. It doesn't seem to bother me as much as some of my friends and the students I've ministered with at the campsites. What's important to me is providing the spiritual opportunities for teenagers to experience and know God in life-changing ways. That can (and does) happen anywhere. And I'm excited to see it happen in new places and in new ways.
We Are All On The Same Team
The Camping Board and the Conference Staff and Mission Council who were involved in this decision are part of the Missouri Conference. I am part of the Missouri Conference. Anyone baptized in or who is a member of a United Methodist Church in Missouri is a part of the Missouri Conference. We are in this together. There is no "us vs. them," but only us. We are on the same team. Also, even more importantly, anyone who is a baptized Christian actively following Christ is a part of the ONE BODY of Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. AND, we are all made in God's Image and therefore connected to one another.
We share a covenant together. Those who are ordained in the UMC share a publicly ritualized and deep covenant with the Church and one another. The covenant of ordination as Elder is one of leadership in the United Methodist Church. It involves a commitment to integrity. There have been some so hurt and grieved by this change that they are calling into question the integrity of the people who made this decision. This needs to stop. Yes we are all broken, and we are sinners, and no one is perfect. But this covenant means we are forgiving, and we trust that no one is intentionally and maliciously trying to do harm. If there has been impropriety, the proper response would be to approach it with grace, truth and love. As my father always taught me: "two wrongs don't make a right." This is an opportunity to show Christ's love and build up the body of Christ, not tear it down. You would only be hurting yourself.
I appreciate how Rev. David Israel has emphasized that our entire Missouri Conference played a role in under-funding camps. He basically says that the fact that we have gotten to this point is more of a "shame on us," rather than a "shame on you." We need to come together and work together because we have the same purpose: To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. These are your teammates, brothers & sisters, not enemies.
CampS will Continue
I have posted on Facebook to the students I lead for a week at Camp Jo-Ota, that somehow, some way, we will do something. Not only this, but there WILL be camps this summer of 2015. They will be in a different place. They will not be what past camps have been. They will be different. But, God is already there. God is already at work. Students will experience God and make commitments to follow Christ. AND, even though some of us may refuse to admit it, this may become more than we could ever ask or imagine. Not because this is the best decision. But because that's just how awesome God is. New life (resurrection) isn't just something God does, it's who God is. That's what Jesus is all about (John 11:25), "resurrection and life." This decision does NOT reflect a lack of commitment to camping and "the next generation." In fact, it is the exact opposite. This decision was made because of a deep commitment to camping/retreats and "the next generation." (I really appreciate Rev. Trevor Dancer's "bird's eye view" of the change, which speaks to the commitment to reach "the next generation" not just for 5, 10 or 15 years, but well beyond that.)
Local Churches Need to Reach Youth
There are nearly 1 million school-aged people across our state. According to the reports that each of our local churches turn in to the Annual Conference, only about 60,000 of those are connected to a local United Methodist Church. That's six percent. (**See note below about camp participation numbers.) We shouldn't be satisfied with this. If our local churches had been living out a deep commitment to reaching school-aged people, then our camps would have been so overflowing that it would have been easy to maintain and operate them. I believe many of our churches and leaders (pastors) have neglected this mission field. There are a lot of reasons for that. But a lot of our churches do not have anyone or very few people under age 50. I've served churches where myself and my family were the youngest ones by a generation or more (until I worked to start a youth ministry). This is what I was trying to say when I said "no one cares, or at least no one is noticing." Sure, there are a good number of people who care and who are noticing, but when compared to the general population, it's not many. The people who care and are noticing are those who have a connection to United Methodist Camps in Missouri. Sadly, that's a small number. Not because the site directors and other camp staff or camping board did a bad job, but because local churches have failed to reach young people. Now, it's not ALL churches. There are quite a few who are doing well in this. But a majority of us are not. Even some of our larger churches have small youth ministries. There is no quick fix or magic bullet for this. But we must not give up or expect someone else to do this for us or think "it will just happen". We must persevere and keep trying to reach young people.
Outward-Focus, Outreach, evangelism, or whatever you want to call it
Some have responded saying that over-emphasizing evangelism is bad because you need to feed people before they can feed others. This makes logical sense. Another person responded saying that families need to do a better job of shaping their children as Christians at home (I totally agree with that), and church should be a place where families learn how to do that (I agree). I still say outward-focus is key to a healthy church. That doesn't mean you neglect equipping people for ministry and a life of Christ-following, but it does mean we are always pushing each other back into the world, much like the hymn "In the Garden" says near the end:
I'd stay in the garden with Him [Christ]...But He [Christ] bids me go, through the voice of woe, His [Christ's] voice to me is calling.
As for feeding people before they can feed others. I feed myself, most of us do, unless you're an infant. I happen to have an infant in my home right now and at 9 months was already starting to hold his own bottle and feed himself. To use the cliché, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." There's two issues here churches need to work on. One, are we leading people to the life-giving water (or spiritual food)? I say, not if we're contained within the four walls of a building or only in relationship with fellow Christians. When we meet people, we meet God. Remember, every human was originally created in the Image of God. God is already there, but are you taking the risks to meet God among the people of your community. Try it. Take the risk. It is amazing how spiritually nurturing it is to see God at work in people's lives. And God is at work within people, ALL people, whether we/they know it or not. It is our job as Christians to help them make the connection and see God, see Christ.
Second, most of us (Missouri United Methodists or just USA Christians in general) are usually pretty satisfied and content. Our bellies are satisfied, and we have plenty of stuff. And we go around convincing ourselves and others that we are "OK." Sometimes, I'll skip a meal or two. Sometimes I'll even complain to someone near me that I'm hungry. I may even exaggerate and say, "starving." And if I'm hungry enough, I find food. I may wait a while and see if someone else is going to take care of me, but eventually, I find a way to eat. And if I'm hungry enough, I'll eat stuff I normally wouldn't, and I'll put forth a great effort to find food and prepare it and consume it. Maybe we need to get hungry again. Maybe we need to get desperate for God again. Maybe we, the Church need to help people be desperate for God again. We are distracted by all of the visible and temporary things we have and enjoy, when what we really need is the invisible and eternal source and author of life, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From the source of these invisible things, we participate with God building the visible kingdom of heaven on earth, in our communities. The invisible is already there, we get to help people see it and experience it.
That's what camping did for me, and many others, and why it's important. But I wouldn't have known about camp, unless a church had first reached out to me and my family. The future of United Methodist Camping in Missouri depends upon how well our local churches are connecting and building relationships with people we don't yet know in our communities. I know that's easier said than done, but I'm committed to continually figuring it out over and over and over again because the same thing won't work for all people, places, and times. But the bottom line is relationships, and at the core of that is love; radical, crazy, risk-taking Jesus-love.
That about covers it. I hope that is more clear and less offensive.
**Note about our camp participation numbers:
The conference released two numbers about how many of these 60,000 participate in camping: 2,075 campers (United Methodists) representing 20% of our (United Methodist) churches. My dilemma is, 2,075/60,000 is only 3.5%, which is way different than 20% or 1/5th. Now, these numbers don't include non-UMC participation and activities at our campsites. The bottom line for me is, I think we could do way better. That doesn't mean the people who have been a part of the camping ministries up to this point aren't valuable. You can't put a price on someone's life or soul. Even if just one person's life was transformed by Christ, then it would be worth it. But I'd still have to ask the question: even though it's worth it, are we being good stewards of what we've been given? Probably not, we need to try something different to reach different people.
A few months back, the Pastors Today blog with Thom Rainer had a post about risks pastors can and should take. It encouraged leaders to "play it safe" theologically because that is a risky thing to do these days. You can find the post by Eric McKiddie here. In it, he claims something that I've heard and felt before, that having conservative theology is the key to having a healthy growing church. Here's what Eric says:
We don’t need to guess whether maintaining a conservative theological position is best long term. Church history has played this saga out for us already, and has proven that the riskiest theological path is the one that veers left. One century later, look at the mainline denominations. One decade later, look at the emerging church. They took the risk that budging on the authority of God’s word would keep them relevant in our culture. They lost.
The argument is pretty convincing, and has been around for quite some time. It basically says, God blesses a church with numerical growth when they get their theology right. I'll be honest, I've gone along with that because it makes some sense. However, as I've continued to develop my thinking, I'm not sure it is totally correct. (What seems to be the key to church growth is an outward-focus toward the community, rather than an inward-focus.)
In fact, the way Mr. McKiddie has phrased things here is really offensive. I know of a number of churches that are growing that probably espouse a non-"conservative theological position." Honestly, the "safest" theological position to have is an "historically orthodox" position. It is left of conservative, but still not ultra-progressive. But that's not my point here.
The point is this, where is the ecumenical spirit? Where is the love of Christ? Aren't we one body of believers? Baptized in one spirit? One Lord? To say that some are winners and some are losers because of theological ideas is just ridiculous. What does the Lord require of us? To do justice and love mercy. It will take ALL of us to do and be that for a broken world. We need to quit saying "I'm better than you because my interpretation of the Bible is clearly better than yours." We need to come together working to show God's love in our communities.
Basically Eric, I see two things that you need to work on here. You needn't call out Mainliners and the Emerging Church as losers because of their theological stance. In fact, most of the mainliners and emerging church leaders I know are not trying to be "relevant in our culture," instead they are trying to be authentically faithful to their core convictions and values. Things that they think the Bible clearly teaches, just like you, Mr. McKiddie, stick to what you think the Bible clearly teaches. See, there's something in common with your "loser" brothers and sisters in Christ.
The other thing to work on is how we talk about the Bible, and what it clearly teaches. We all have different interpretations, and in its history, the Church has always had these discussions. That's a big reason why we had the Protestant Reformation. It's not going to be resolved any time soon. A good rule of thumb that was passed on to me from the Wesleyan tradition is: "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." Now, we will probably argue over what is essential and what isn't. But in all of that we must have charity--Love. In fact, this is what scripture teaches us in 1 Corinthians. Paul responds to "divisions" in the church, and says "I will show you a more excellent way...LOVE." It's easy to say, harder to do. We need to quit fighting over the Bible and demonstrate the Love that it teaches.
Eric McKiddie, I don't know you, but I love you. Because you're my brother in Christ. And, overall, your article about pastors taking risk is pretty spot on. Risk is an important part of faith. Without risk, there is no faith. We must lead our churches to take risk. And I like to lead by example. I think the greatest risk we can take is to live the radical love of Jesus Christ in real ways in our communities. Fighting over biblical interpretation isn't going to help grow the church. Showing how much we love one another will.
So a few weeks back, I wondered if there were any other pastors who fret over whether or not they're "selling out." After spending a week at church camp, and trying to get ready for ministry this fall, I'm ready to answer. First, let me say a little more about what I mean by "selling out."
Obviously, I don't mean getting paid a huge amount of money because pastors don't really get paid much (more than some, but not a lot). What I mean is: do I stray from my ideals in order to please pew-sitters or denominational authority? My ideal is this: ultimately, my life is to please God. If others happen to be pleased as well, then that's great, but my number one priority is pleasing God.
Honestly and unfortunately, the answer is "yes." I have from time to time tried to keep people happy simply so they would keep filling a pew on a regular basis and give their money. Yes, I have done things simply because the denominational higher-ups expect something a certain way. Just confessing that is freeing.
Here's what really concerns me though: I feel like I have to give my attention to a lot of things that aren't really making an impact. So often, I feel like there are competing expectations. The congregation expects me to take care of the people who are already Christian-Church-Attenders, and the "membership," but I feel God calling me to reach people in the community who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now if I can mobilize the "membership" to join me in reaching the community, that would be awesome. That seems so difficult. Even impossible. In fact, I think Mark Love captures a bit of what I'm saying here:
Our [pastors] greatest fear is irrelevance...that what we say and do is making zero difference in your life.
So part of me is always wondering if I get too tied up in inward-focused churchy stuff instead of the God stuff. I ask myself: "Am I settling for less than what God intended?" Have I become okay with just allowing the status quo to continue because it keeps the "church people" happy?
The truth is, if keeping people happy is the goal, then I'll never reach it. I have to stay focused on pleasing God, even if it means questioning the status quo, changing things, rocking the boat...or leaving the boat...and even if it means some people are unhappy.
There's another voice that is speaking to me from Scripture right now. It's Matthew 25:21:
You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much
I think that's a reminder to me that little things can make a big difference. It's also a reminder to be patient and realize that the best results usually aren't immediate. That's encouraging because some of thing things that I think aren't making a difference...offered to God, who knows what He can do...maybe they're doing more than I realize. "With God, all things are possible."
Many of my clergy friends are moving and have moved to new contexts for ministry in the past weeks and I thought this is relevant to getting to know people.
When Zachaeus climbs up a tree, Jesus tells him he's going to his house today...at least, that's how the song goes that I was taught. Looking at Luke 19 verse 5, it's pretty clear that Jesus just invites himself over to Zach's house. I don't know what the culturally accepted (or expected) way of doing things was back then, but I know that today in the U.S.A. That's not typically how it works. That's called "inviting yourself over." It could also be called "party crashing." At least Jesus made contact first and gave a warning. Jesus didn't just show up at Zach's private residence, but he did invite himself over.
Can/should we follow Jesus' example today? Is it ok for me as a Follower of Christ to just invite myself over into people's homes to spend time with them? What's the balance between respecting culture and violating etiquette? Let's take a deeper look at the story.
Jesus does not just invite himself over out of the blue. Zach made a clear effort to try and get to know Jesus. Jesus responded and said, "I'm coming to your house." So, it would not be best to walk up to some random stranger and say "I'm coming to your house today." If that "stranger" is an acquaintance (or on the way to becoming one) and shows an interest in you and what you're about, then you can invite further conversation and invite yourself to their home.
Also, notice that Jesus knows Zach's name. Whether it was divine foreknowledge, or if Zach was a well-known public figure, the story doesn't say. But, Jesus knows Zach's name. Again, this is not just a random stranger out of the blue. The story says Zach is a rich leader among tax collectors. Zach is a person of influence, and probably known in the community, which can be negative or positive (in this case, probably negative because he's a tax collector). And Jesus knows his name and calls him by name. I imagine Zach also knew Jesus' name. Why else would he be climbing a tree to try and see him? Ok, maybe he just did it because everyone else was crowding Jesus and Zach just wanted to see what the spectacle was. But even then, the buzz was probably going around: "Jesus is here." So they both probably knew of each other, but didn't necessarily know one another. So if you know a persons name, and they probably know yours, then you can invite yourself over to their home. Are you following me?
Why am I discussing this? Because breaking cultural norms to reach people for Christ is tricky business. I need to fit in culturally, and speak the language, and follow the "rules," but the cause of Christ compels me to push the boundaries and take risks. Inviting myself over is a daunting risk, but if I know the person's name, and they've made an effort to know me, then I'm just returning the favor and seeking to know them more. This is how relationships start, and a relationship with me is a start to a relationship with Christ.
So don't pass up the opportunity to violate etiquette and invite yourself over to strangers homes. They won't be strangers for long, and you have the chance to share your relationship with Christ by starting a new one. Take the risk. It's worth it.
What do you think, is inviting yourself over going too far? How is it different from door-to-door evangelism? I think if you keep the above thoughts in mind and the person is becoming an acquaintance instead of a total stranger, then you're good to go. But honestly, for me, it's a very daunting task to step out, risk rejection and build a deeper relationship with some one I don't know. Again, the risk is worth it for the sake of Christ. I'm working on growing in this area myself, and I'm finding that yes, taking the risk is worth it. I
Ok, I have another chart for you. The last one I stole from facebook.com/journeychurch.org but this time I just kept the layout and changed most of the words myself. I'm trying to highlight a key difference about how evangelism is viewed or done differently. I'm calling it Attractional vs. Relational Evangelism.
In the attractional model, it's all about getting people to come to you. In the relational model, it's about going to meet people where they are in ordinary life and living as a Christ follower. Attractional methodology works to draw a crowd as quick as possible and offer a product (give a sales pitch). Relational methodology takes an investment of time and friendship.
I'm not sure these are mutually exclusive. I think there is possibly a hybrid option here. BUT, I prefer the relational side. It makes sense. I've encountered Jesus Christ and that changes me and how I live. It should be natural that my relationship with Christ has an effect on all aspects of my life, especially all my other relationships. I do not draw myself out of culture, but I engage people through culture, at least the parts where my life intersects theirs.
Relational takes a long-term view of building a relationship. The aim is to populate the kingdom of heaven on earth, not simply fill pews. The Relational Evangelist (which every Christian should be) brings the kingdom of heaven to people where they are, much like Jesus is depicted doing in the Gospels. We work to bring to the world: peace, justice, beauty, creativity, love, blessing, health, reconciliation, forgiveness, redemption--the values/ideas/lifestyle of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of heaven. Relational methodology is about influencing the people around you by the way you live (as Christ).
The problem most of us "church people" face is that we "joined" a church and quit making new friends outside of church. We've disengaged. The way I've been taught to alleviate this problem as a leader is to have "bridge events" where we create space for "church people" to interact and build bridges with "non church people" (lack a good term for that). What if we took a different approach and used the events/activities that are already going on in our everyday ordinary lives?
For example, I recently convinced another church to open their gym for some time for men to play basketball. I saw it as a way to invite people and build relationships with guys I don't know well. It is working. That is happening. But now I feel like I have to pull a "bait-n-switch" tactic to get them to "come to church". A better way would probably have been to go join an already existing basketball league/program in my community. Then I could build relationships and live out my faith in noticeable ways that my new friends would want to investigate further.
A hybrid methodology is possible, but it is hard to avoid feeling a bit deceptive about a "bait-n-switch". The bridge event would need to have no hidden motive other than the stated good that the event does for the community. It would still provide a space for relational evangelists to mix and interact with "non church people" and begin building bridges and relationships. I consider this hybrid because you're still doing some marketing to get people to come to something instead of sending "church people" to go where "non church people" are and build relationships.
What do you think? Am I on target? Any adjustments that you would suggest?
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.