Things are kind of coming together in my head.
I’m reading Michael Slaughter’s book, Change the World, for a three-part sermon series and preparation for our “Change the World Sunday” in 8 days. I’ve been reading some other blogs. I’ve been studying. And I’ve been reflecting about where I’ve been over the last year or so. In my preaching and teaching I’ve been putting great stress on getting out and being involved in communities. As Director of Communications for the Alaska United Methodist Conference, I have been inundated with all of the PR for our “RETHINK CHURCH” campaign and the slogan, “What if church were a verb?” I am rooted in the Wesleyan understanding of “practical divinity” and Reuben Job’s Three Simple Rules (Do no harm, Do good, Stay in love with God). Even the first sermon I ever preached was on the Book of James (2:14-18) and it’s connection between faith and works.
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
I have always, as far as I remember, had an understanding that our faith was one to be lived out in the world, actively.
The problem is, for most of us Christians and for most of us Pastors, we just haven’t operated that way. And it’s shown by how we’ve “done” church. We’ve been up our churches and put our programs into place and have hoped to have a good enough product so that persons are “attracted” to us and come join us. “If you build it, they will come.” And, with our building process, that’s kind of how it’s felt.
So, a lot of this has been swimming around in my head. It’s a lot of what I felt and was really how I’ve been preaching and teaching and hopefully acting.
But there is a term that has come to my attention that gets at what all of this is meaning to me right now. Just today I came across Ken Carter’s blog, “Bear Witness to the Love of God” and the post “Re-thinking church (change the world).” I wanted to quote some of this for you.
I would encourage United Methodist pastors and leaders to read Slaughter’s Change The World, and alongside it Introducing The Missional Church by Roxburgh and Boren (Baker, 2009). To paraphrase Roxburgh and Boren, we will likely discover in the coming years that our constituents are tiring of the attractional pattern of doing church (for many of the reasons I note in the first paragraph above); at the same time, many young adults (16-35 year olds) hunger for missional church, or at least missional experience (evidence: Katrina, Haiti, Bono, Teach for America, the Obama campaign, etc.). To be missional is to enter into the strange world of the Bible—the call of Abraham, Isaiah’s prophecy to rebuild the ruined cities, the inaugural sermon of Jesus in Capernaum, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, not to mention the Book of Acts, a neglected resource among mainline churches in general) and the tradition. At our best, United Methodists have always been missional, and when we have been missional, we have changed the world. There will continue to be attractional churches who do their ministry with excellence, but for the most part they will attract mobile United Methodists seeking similar programs and practices (I am thinking of the United Methodist who moves from Charlotte to Indianapolis, or vice versa).
I think this has bearing for how our church acts in our own community. We need to see ourselves as missionaries going out to the world around us with the light of Christ. And, as our church grows, we must never lose sight of the mission of the church. It is never to have the most beautiful building…or the largest mortgage. We need to be careful that our own building doesn’t become an idol to us that gets in the way of ministry.