Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Church And Mission

If I had a way of doing so I would ask all those who are a part of a church to raise your hands if you have a missions committee or department. Many churches do. This is the group of people who dedicate themselves, at least in title, to presenting the church with mission opportunities, or at least chances to give money toward missions that someone else will do. A good many churches rest easy at night thinking missions are cared for because we have a committee doing this work.

Problem, mission is not a program or committee of the church. The church is mission. The whole reason the church exists is to be the mission of God in this creation. Mission should not simply be a department of the church, it is the reason behind everything. If this is true, why do we have mission committees? Answer, it is easier to delegate others than to get involved. Let's face it churches today have become very in turned. We hear things like, what about the members, we need to take care of ourselves before we take care of others etc...

I am not a fan of that line of thinking. For the most part that line of thinking is avoidance. That line of thinking has made it so the mission field that is expanding at the quickest rate is the Western church. In particular the church in America. I am not talking about the American society, while there is concern there, the church in America is full of people who do not even realize they are at best asleep, at worst dead. The time has come for the church to wake up, and recapture the work placed before them.

We are called to be the mission of God, not the collection point of people, information and stuff. It is not tradition, history and past which we must persist in. We must be people of hope and life, we must be people who carry out the mission of God above all else. I wonder what would happen if churches started to be the mission of God, before an organization or institution?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Fear Metality

As I have opportunity to work with people in several different churches and interact with people from all around the country, I find most people in the church operate on a fear mentality. Constantly I find people who are afraid of what others will do or say if change is initiated in the church. Repeatedly I come across people who live in fear that this whole thing called the church is going to come crashing down. Now, during these economic hard times, many are concerned for the continued financial viability of the church. The most tragic product of this fear mentality is people who sit around longing for something more, something greater, yet are paralyzed by fear.

The only thing we are to fear is the Lord. This is not intended to be fear as in be afraid of God. Rather we are to fear the fact that God is all powerful, and that God is God and we are not. To me the fear of the Lord is remembering the relationship we have to God appropriately. Paul reminds young Timothy we are not given a spirit of fear and timidity, rather a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. Still we languish in fear.

What would have happened in the heros of our faith would have stopped because of fear. Abram, never left for the land God would show him. David passed on confronting Goliath. The prophets chose to be silent. Jesus gave in to the temptations of Satan. Would our journey be different? You bet. We would then have a legacy of people who thought about doing something, but didn't. Sounds like the church. There is great discussion about doing something for the sake of Christ, yet often fear steals the ambition. Friends, this should not be.

Be bold, be confrontational, be loving, be self-disciplined, be compassionate, but for the sake of Christ stop being fearful. So what if people do not like what you do or say, the majority went against Jesus. So what if you are pushed to the edges, Jesus showed preferential treatment for those on the margins. The last thing this world needs in more fear. What the world so desperately needs is men and women, old and young, to step to the plate and lead in spite of fear. To say what must be said, and lead where we must be lead. Anything less and we are falling short of who God created us to be.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ReThink Clergy

Recently I was in Jacksonville Florida for a conference put on by the UMC. One of the groups there was putting forth a campaign calling people to ReThink church. I love this idea, as I have working on ReThinking and ReVisioning church for most of my adult life. As I have reflected on the concept, I have found one major stumbling block. Lay persons are often more than ready to rethink church, it is my colleagues and myself who can hold up the progress.

If we are going to ReThink church for our time and place the starting point is to ReThink clergy. It is time for us clergy people to stop holding the church captive and release them. I know I am not alone in this thought and this process. Over the last week I have begun interacting more with the under 40 clergy of the soon to be Upper New York Annual Conference. What excites me most is not that we are all theologically homogeneous, we are not, not that we are all socially engaged the same way, we are not. What excites me is the fact we all realize it is time to ReThink church and what it means to pastor a church.

By comparison the group is small. The percentage of total clergy is much larger than our group. Isn't that how it works with reformation. Rarely, if ever, can the majority lead the reformation. In fact it seems by definition reformation is a minority report that will not go away. Often those of us in this under the hill grouping of clergy are seen as loud, pretentious, bold, and that we just don't get it. I have no argument to any of that. Some have voiced how when we have more experience in life we will shift the way we think and function. This response shows me just how desperately it is time to ReThink clergy. What is happening is not merely a shift in paradigm, it is not merely youthful inexperience and enthusiasm. At the core what is happening is a new breed and understanding of clergy is emerging.

The body of Christ is too important to not be vital and fresh, addressing the issues of this day, through the wisdom of centuries before us. This is too important to simply maintain business as usual. The time has come for a new understanding, which is not necessarily new. The time has come to recapture the lost ways of the ancients. It is time to ReThink everything.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A People In Exile

Thanks to Rob Bell and Don Golden I have been thinking a lot about exile this week. Monday morning I pickup the book Jesus Wants To Save Christians: A Manifesto For The Church In Exile As is normal for Rob Bell projects there is a great deal of knowledge displayed regarding the ancient ways of the People of God. In a very compelling argument, Bell and Golden show how God uses exile to enter into a new creation, to once again have the people of God connect with the purposes of God. Though I have not finished the book yet, it seems as though the conclusion is we in America are that people of God in exile. We have forgotten our story, failed to continue the blessing and seem to be strangers to the purpose of God. This is not good news.

So what do we do? The easiest option at the outset is to simply abandon the whole thing. Many have taken this route by working to keep connected with Jesus, yet leaving the church behind. This does not really solve the problem as much as it avoids it. Not to mention we are called to be the body of Christ, living in community as God is in perfect community, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Therefore while there is an attempt to stay connected to Jesus, the connection will fall short outside of the community we are called to be a part of.

Another option has been to simply go with the flow. I have heard it said, "Well we are not exactly what God intended with the church, but it seems to have worked this far." This frightens me. There is an acknowledgment we are off course, but because the doors are still open, for now, it must be okay.

For as many people who wrestle with this issue of a church in exile there will be that number of solutions. In reality there is no one solution. I do know it will not be easy. It will not simply be found in exchanging the organ for a band, and hymnbooks for projection. At the core it will involve individuals and communities to allow Jesus to make them a new creation. We must recapture the intend being the people of God. It is not for our sake, rather it is for the sake of those who have not yet realized the work of God in their lives. People are found to be in exile when they begin to think the blessing is meant for them, when they begin to think Jesus is only a personal issue. We are to live a live which we connect with God so that others may see the connection God has in their life.

It is time to come back from exile. It is time to allow Jesus to re-create us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Work of Change

It has been a few weeks since I have posted here. A lot of my post time has been spent on the other blog I write, Cortland Scripture Journey but I thought I would offer some thoughts here this morning. I returned last night from an overnight retreat where I was leading a group of men through a discussion about change. As the time went along I had an extreme amount of fun and learned something which I think is profound.

What I learned is most people are not afraid of change. It is only a small percentage of people who are afraid of change and who do not want to see change take place in their lives or their churches. So why is it that change is so difficult? Most people are not sure what it looks like to change, or what it takes to change. Second, most people are willing to settle for change rather than engage in transformation. The difference? Change will have to be done again. We change the tires our our cars, we change the clothes we wear, and that will have to be done again and again. Transformation is becoming something different than before. Transformation does not require repeating the same transition over and over again. That is not to say there won't be more transformation but there is not a need to transform the same thing twice if it is truly transformed. A butterfly will never again be a caterpillar.

Once people are opened up to the possibility of transformation and change most will continue on that path. There needs to be some nurture from those around and from a leader, nonetheless change can be accomplished.

Moreover, change and transformation must take place in the church today. What has happened in the church to this point is not all bad, simple it will not reach the world today we are called by God to be about the work of transformation. The way we conduct our business as the people of God must be done differently than it has in the past 100 years. I believe God is looking for men and women, clergy and lay, who are willing to allow themselves to be transformed for the transformation of the church. Once the church becomes a transforming place, God will use it to transform the world.