I just have to go on record saying that I have been incredibly encouraged by E. Stanley Jones and his 1954 devotional, Growing Spiritually. I have been reading it for 10 days now and each morning has been a feast of meat to chew on for the rest of the day. Thanks to ChrisY for putting Jones on my radar!
As Jones writes about guidance for a nation (or individual or church) he is trying to explain the importance of mission. A mission is vitally important to the ongoing movement of an organization, nation or individual - without it a vacuum is created and anything can rush in to fill the void.
Jones says, "Individuals and nations [and churches] must not only move; they must move in the right direction under God's guidance" (275). Essentially, alignment must be combined with motion. When an organization has misalignment there are forces pulling the organization in conflicting directions.
Misalignment does more damage and creates more wear and tear on an organization than does misdirection. Misaligned people are only a few degrees off-kilter, but they pull the organization in ways that cause the leadership to be constantly making mid-course corrections in order to maintain the proper direction for the organization.
Misdirected people pull their weight in the exact opposite direction from the organization - they tend to slow down progress, but they do not cause wear and tear on the systems of the organization, just energy drain on the leadership.
What can cure misalignment AND misdirection? A clear, compelling mission. When an organization has a clear, compelling mission, those who are out of alignment see where they need to come back to in order to move the organization in the right direction with less friction, wear and tear. Those who are misdirected see where the organization is headed and can decide whether they want to get on board or get off in favor of one more in line with their priorities. Either way, the organization benefits from having a clear, compelling mission.
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."2 Chronicles 7:14
Even though we closed our MDO earlier this summer, we are already making plans to open a new program after the first of the year. We realize that MDO was a ministry of the church and that we need to make sure that door is open as much as possible. That program met real needs in our community and it helped many families struggling to make ends meet get childcare that they could count on for a reasonable cost.
We are making improvements to our program and starting small, but we want to make sure that we get back into this ministry opportunity as quickly as possible.
Would you come to a church if "church" was a daycare? Would you invite your friends?
This video makes me want to start a building campaign so that University could have a gym! What a great way for churches to invite people into the building without the pressure of "dressing up for God" or worrying about "saying the wrong thing" because we're going to worship in the sanctuary. If we could open our doors to a basketball (or soccer or volleyball or football) league for the community, then people who wouldn't normally cross our thresholds are walking in to our church without even knowing it.
I have been part of a church that opened its doors to sports programs and the people flooded in, they couldn't get enough of kids flag football, kids cheerleading, adult softball, etc. It's a door that we need to utilize!
What if we fully took advantage of this opportunity? What if church was a basketball league? Would you come? Would you invite your friends? Would you form a team from the guys at your office and bring them with you?
Do you ever wonder if going to church every week makes a difference in your life? What would you say to a church that consistently strives to prove what they say they believe with their lives? Would you come? Would you bring a friend?
When the church says one thing on Sundays and does completely another thing the rest of the week, it is preaching "cheap grace." When a church puts its proverbial money where its mouth is, it is preaching "costly grace."
I want to be part of a church that intentionally seeks out ways to preach "costly grace" with our lives.
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. (Ps 112.4)
Growing up the moment that dusk began to settle over the neighborhood I knew that it was time to head home. I knew that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I had to be home before dark. The one time I ignored that directive got me totally turned around, lost, confused, and in a state of panic. The darkness closed in quickly and left me with no choice but to retrace my steps and hope for help. I made it home eventually, but not without learning my lesson about the importance of arriving home before the sun set each evening.
In that dark moment, the porch light on my friend's house was a welcomed sight as it opened the door on finding my way home. E. Stanley Jones says, "If we live in God, then the closing of one door means that God is opening a larger one. But often we think only in terms of the closed door. So we weep before the closed doors instead of turning the knob of the larger door" (Growing Spiritually, 271).
The closed doors in our lives (i.e. relationships that end, jobs we lose, opportunities we miss) often drive us to our knees, but not in prayer, only in a pool of self-pity. The closed doors make us wonder about our own ability to live "successful" lives. The closed doors make us doubt God's power instead of dependant upon it.
When we "turn the knob" of a larger, open door God's provision streams into our lives. The hard part for me is that the "turning" is my responsibility. I have to take the initiative to open the door - it won't happen for me - even when God puts the door right in front of me.
How often do I weep for closed doors and end up ignoring an open one? What reminders, triggers, etc. do I need in my life to keep from missing those opportunities?
With the proliferation of online social networking sites, I wonder if offline social networking has become passe? My hunch is "no" because Debbie and I spent 3 hours on Friday night talking, eating, and playing games with 6 other people from church. We talked about Facebook, but we didn't all get on our computers and post on each other's walls - we looked across the table at the real people gathered in that home and broke bread together. It was great!
I'll be honest, I spend quite a bit of time online each day checking Facebook, Twitter, and my Google Calendar. However, I deal with real people in my ministry daily. I come home to a real wife and daughter everyday. I may use social media to reach out to people in my church, but there comes a time when I have to step away from the computer and talk to people face-to-face. Unfortunately, Facebook has not yet developed a "conflict resolution" app where all I need to do is click a button and my most troublesome church members get zapped into oblivion.
What if church provided the missing interaction that social networking sites just can't offer? Would you come? Would you invite your friends? Would it give you a new understanding of God and Jesus?
What if we linked ecology with theology? Would it make a difference in how you view the nature of the church? Would it increase your likelihood of attending? Would it make you wonder why the church is getting "political"?
The care of creation is something I take seriously in my own life. I remember when I first came to Wichita Falls and asked about recycling efforts. The confused looks on people's faces stuck with me. I know I am not perfect and could do plenty more to help curb our taxation of Earth's resources, but I know that when we think critically about stewardship of the planet, we are doing God's work - just read Genesis 1:28-30 for a quick example.
I leafed (pun intended) through a Green Bible a few months ago and was struck by the sheer volume of scriptural support for creation care (notice how those verses are set off in green text). I didn't buy one, but applauded the creators for helping us realize the importance of increased focus on these creation care topics. I wonder if the editors ever thought about not printing it on paper, but instead making it electronic? How much more green can you get? Just a thought!
What creation care issues strike you as the most pressing?
Which ecology/theology questions does the church need to start addressing immediately?
This is my newsletter article for the newest edition.
Rethink Church. For some, this is an unspeakable task. They ask, “Why in the world would you want to change church?” For some, this is the most exciting thing that the United Methodist Church has undertaken in the last 50 years. They ask, “What took so long?” For some, this is another program doomed to languish in the sea of ineffectiveness. They ask, “Why should I invest in this when it will be gone soon and I’ll still be here?”
There are probably a dozen more perspectives from which to see the Rethink Church initiative. What’s yours? What lenses do you use to view the efforts of the global UMC as it seeks to put new tools into our toolkit? How do those lenses keep the efforts of this local church in perspective?
Over the years, many different metaphors have come in and out of “fashion” when talking about individual and communal efforts to “rethink church” and what it means to faithfully follow God. One image that United Methodists have continued to return to during our history is the image of walking. Walking with God. Walking together in community. Walking alone (in times of spiritual despair). Walking, one foot in front of the other. Walking, one of the first large motor skills a child learns. Walking, something that many people take for granted because they can and have never had a point in their life where they couldn’t. Walking.
Twentieth century Methodist missionary and theologian, E. Stanley Jones, wrote: “In walking, equilibrium is upset by every movement in order to make progress. The upset is to set us on our way. God has to allow enough upset to come into our lives to break up the equilibrium in order to make us move forward” (Growing Spiritually, pg 265, emphasis mine).
As we continue our journey to Rethink Church here at University UMC, I pray that your equilibrium is upset over the next three weeks. I pray that, like in walking, your equilibrium is upset to the point that it “make[s] us move forward.” Our church’s walk with God can only move forward by our willingness to endure disequilibrium. I would encourage you to track your moments of disequilibrium over the next three weeks. Ask yourself why those moments are producing such an off-balance feeling and seek God for an honest answer to the question.
As I mentioned on Sunday, the Rethink Church initiative is an effort of the entire UMC, but Jesus spent a good portion of his ministry attempting to get religious people to rethink their preconceived notions about what following God looked like. In addition, part of our doctrinal heritage as United Methodists includes “the sober realization that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal” (Book of Discipline, Para. 101, pg 44).
Be on the look out for Rethink Church questions on your tables at Cornerstone Café and on the church website during the rest of this series!