Thursday, April 12, 2018

God Said No, But the Church Said Go

God said no and the church said go.
Numbers 14

God unleashes a curse upon the Israelite’s because they allowed the fear of the 10 spies to influence them into turning back to Egypt. They gave up the land of promise for the hope of slavery. They selected a captain of the host to lead them back across the wilderness, around the sea, and into the welcoming arms of the ruler of Egypt. God doesn’t want them to get the chance. But Moses intercedes and God’s curse is moderated to prohibition. Only the spies who sparked fear will pay with their lives. The rest of those who were filled with fear and rejection will never see the land of promise.

The people respond with weeping and suffering, right? No. They grab their swords and spears and make way for the border. They will take the land by force. Wasn’t that what God intended? A holy war was to be proclaimed against these heathen and pagan inhabitants. God would make war, through the Israelite people. Victory was their promise. And God’s promise is certain. They had God on their side and would be triumphant in their war to purge the land.

The American Church has responded to the curse of God in this age in a very similar way. They have joined in battle against the inhabitants of the land to claim what they believe is the God-given promise. This land is our land. One nation under God. And that god is our God. All will have to recognize that one sovereign authority. In God we trust and believe that we are the righteous victors in whatever battle is placed before us. The Culture War. The Morality War. The Political War. The Christmas War. The War with Gays.

The American Church has turned its eye to the borders and seeks to unseat the inhabitants from what they believe is their ordained place of promise. The American Church is the seat of authority. It is the heart of morality. Culture and Politics have been co-opted and corrupted by liberal pagan influences. They don’t understand morality. They are heathens. They don’t have authority because only God and the Bible are the authority. As long as you read the Bible the same way the American Church does and worship God in the same spirit.

The American Church has picked up the swords of biblical inerrancy to claim that nothing in the Bible is wrong and that it is just as true today as it has always been. But ignore those things that don’t apply to us. They have picked up the spears of righteous indignant judmentalism to proclaim what is godly living and behavior. But don’t try to push the blunt end of the spear back at our own failings and unrighteousness. There is only one true judge, and the American Church gets to be the only proxy voice of what is good and what is evil.

The great mistake of the Israelite’s is that they forgot to take God with them into battle. Moses (the word of God), Aaron (the priest of God), Joshua (the war leader of God), and the Ark (the presence of God) all remained in camp. The mob moved against the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. And were repelled because of the power and authority of God was not theirs to draw upon.

As we survey the battlefronts that the American Church is fighting along, we see them losing ground. The power to influence their communities has weakened. Their power to sustain a moral example and witness is diminished. The authority to speak on behalf of God has resulted in an increasing number of Americans claiming to be atheist. Their authority to act on behalf of Jesus Christ has produced a general feeling that he is just another mythological creature; like a unicorn in a toga. But still they fight their battles

They don’t see the wounded piling up in their own congregations. They don’t see the broken people right outside their doors longing for someone to bandage them up, or even heal them as the mythological Jesus did. They don’t notice homes that are wrecked, schools that are shot up, neighbors being evicted, the hungry cry for food or the homeless longing for a shelter. They just see it as the fault of culture. Too much sex and violence in media. Not enough personal responsibility to get and keep a job to provide for themselves and their family. They just don’t come to church because if they had enough God in their life, God would fix their problems.

Well, God did do something to fix their problems. God said go and the church said no.

Now, the American Church wants to fight the evil that is growing in their world. They want to put gays back in the closets or cast those demons out of them because the God of the American Church needs them to be straightened out before they can worship. They want to put Mexicans and Middle Easterners and Asians back in their homelands because this is a land given to the American Church and those kinds (Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists) don’t know how to live good lives and love their neighbors like we do. They want to arm teachers to kill those bad students to protect the good students, without killing anyone else in the process. They want to see Hollywood made pure and D.C. made godly. They want the power and authority they once heard was promised to them so they can make this nation a Great Christian Nation once again.

Only God said no but the American Church said. “Go.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

God Said Go, And the Church Said No

When God says go and the church said no
Numbers 13

Moses receives a message from God. “Send out spies to recon the land I am giving you.” Moses calls 12 men from each tribe and sends them into Canaan to gauge the power and strength of those who live there. After 40 days, the spies return and report on their findings. It is a land flowing with milk and honey. The fruit is plentiful and abundant. But the inhabitants are strong and well defended. The only voice that stands opposed is Caleb, the representative of Judah.

The people are now filled with hesitation. They have wandered from Egypt, through the sea, to the Mt. Sinai, and now to the borders of the land promised. But they look back and consider where they have come from better than what lies before. The enemy is greater. The land can’t be that good. What seems to be the better choice is returning to slavery.

God has told them to “Go”. They were told to go from there houses in Goshen. They were told to go through the dry passage between the walls of the sea. They were told to go to Mt. Sinai to meet God. They were told to move toward the land promised. Go gave them the Go-ahead. Whatever stood before them could not counter God’s permission and God’s directive: Go!

The Church has been told to go. Nothing has ever overruled the commission that Jesus Christ gave the disciples of the early church. Go into all the world. Go and teach my words. Go and witness to me. Go and baptize in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus says “Go” and the Church was born.

But going requires a willingness to go. It is no exaggeration to claim that the American Church experience of the last 100 years has been one of “come”. Come and hear the music. Come and hear the preacher. Come and join the fellowship. Come and find a family atmosphere. The American Church stopped going beyond its walls and began to call out to the community, “Come and find us.”

God’s response to the Israelite people was to heap curses upon them. The generation that left Egypt would never see the land promised to them. Their children would walk into the land and receive the promise that had been their parents and grandparents. And the voices of fear, the spies who said the people didn’t have a chance, would disappear then and there.

This part is the hard part to hear.

What if those curses are still active?

The American Church has been looking at its declining numbers. It is seeing most of its churches growing old with little influence of younger generations. We are watching those churches of older folks close with increasing numbers every year. God’s curse is coming upon us. The statistic demise of the American Church is a consequence of a “come and find us” mentality. God said to go out into the world, the community, and declare the good news of the Kingdom of God present among the citizens. That was not a message to drop leaflets with the address of the church and the times of worship or the vacation Bible school or the Christmas program with the kiddies. The message was one of “how can we help you live into a better, more abundant, life.”

The American Church is dying off because it sits in fear of the inhabitants of the land. It worries that they will be persecuted. It is filled with anxiety that there is no hope for this “sinful” generation that gets worse year by year. It has become convinced that culture has turned against Christianity and has rejected them. It has judged that culture has nothing holy within and deserves to lead itself to its own ruin.

But that isn’t what God said to the Israelite's. God said, “I have given you this land.” God has said to the disciples, “Go and make more disciples.” God has said to the American Church, “Go!” and the American Church has said, “No.”

Friday, April 06, 2018

Is the United Methodist Itinerant System Broken?


This is my opinion and reflection on something that I made a commitment to. In May of 2002, I stood before the Bishop of the Oklahoma Annual Conference and the gathered members and family. In that particular worship service, I made a vow to uphold the itinerant system. As part of our polity and discipline, I understood that being an Elder in the United Methodist Church meant I would make myself available to the system of providing pastoral leadership and support to local churches. That came with the understanding that I would move throughout my career at the call of the Bishop through the District Superintendent. It also meant that my life and choice were somewhat limited to the desires of others.

16 years later (my 20th year of ministry), I am reflecting upon my current position within that system I vowed to uphold. It has been a bumpy ride from a personal point of view. I have had circumstances that were directly related to my appointments that have changed my feelings and opinion about the itinerant system.

When I began, the itinerant system was something that I supported without question. I put my life, and that of my family, in the hands of District Superintendents that I felt had my and the churches best interests at heart. I believed in the system and trusted that the “will of God” worked through the decisions that led to appointments.

20 years has changed a lot of that.

Now I feel that the system of how appointments are made has more of humanity about it than the will of God. I have been comforted/consoled by friends and colleagues that I should trust God to make the best of the appointments where I am sent. My opinion of the itinerant system is that it is broken and my feelings are not all positive about its impact on my life as a pastor.

Here, I wish to express my viewpoint on where I see it is broken. This will not be fair. I have a limited, small point of view. I can only develop my viewpoint from the narrow window of my experience. This is not the experience of everyone in the United Methodist Church. It is not the experience of every pastor under appointment. My comments are not directed at all District Superintendents or Bishops. And I do not name any clergy by name, but only highlight examples of MY narrow experience.

First, the biggest issue I have encountered is that the needs and gifts and experience of a clergy person, or the needs of their family, don’t really amount to much in the math of determining where an appointment will take someone. The needs I have expressed at times over my career, the passions that I have had for ministry, the gifts that I have displayed, or the personality that drives me were, in my opinion, never really regarded. If they were taken into account, they were taken into account as only the bare necessity of function.

I have expressed a disconnect with rural settings that began in my teenage years, yet my appointments have led me to 15 years of rural setting. My ability to teach has never put me into a setting where that could be highlighted or used for anything beyond teaching a Sunday School class, small Bible study, or youth group. My involvement in campus ministry as the beginning of my call and the emphasis I placed on it in my seminary studies resulted in 1 year of campus ministry.

My family has also experienced a serious lack of acknowledgment in appointment. When I requested a move to be near Lisa’s family, the outcome was that we were moved almost as far away from her family as we could be in Oklahoma. When her dad died in the first year after that move, it rattled us. When her mom died that next year, it shook us badly. I began to question how 3 District Superintendents could not hear the need in my request to be closer to Lisa’s family. Those events brought back the betrayal and hurt from the experience of being moved in the first place. I lost all of the progress I had made on moving past what I felt was having our needs ignored.

As I look back on my time of ministry, there have been 5 times when my requests for what I felt were reasonable consideration in an appointment were disregarded with no explanation for why it couldn’t realized. There have been 3 of those times when the exact opposite of what I requested became my appointment. In one of those, I was told an outright lie regarding the request (more on that instance in a bit). In all, those 5 times represent all but once when I expressed a need or desire for a ministry. In every other case, I stated that I would make myself available to whatever appointment was given to me. Or to re-frame the point I’m making, in 21 years of serving as a pastor, 6 times I asked to be considered for a particular type of appointment. In 21 years of serving as a pastor, I received the thing I asked to be considered for 1 time. That request: to allow my family to remain so my oldest son could graduate. So the one time I received what I asked for it was a request to make no change whatsoever.

My next biggest issue comes from being in a position where the people who are directly responsible for determining my gifts, skills, talents, and resources have never been a position to personally evaluate me in those areas. Our appointments are, ideally, supposed to take the gifts and skills and experience of a pastor into consideration to match to the needs of the a local congregation/appointment. The person who, ideally, is supposed to have that knowledge is the District Superintendent. In 21 years of ministry I have been under the supervision of 10 District Superintendents. Of those 10, only 2 have taken an extra amount of effort to get to know me outside of the annual consultation. And it is in those annual consultations where I expressed my desires and interests in appointments.

I have expressed that I enjoyed campus ministry and working with college age students. I have expressed being considered for a multicultural setting. I expressed a desire to serve in a less conservative appointment. I feel drawn to fringe cultures. I would like to try to serve in a non-traditional setting. I am moderate and mission minded with classic Wesleyan beliefs and influenced by modern social justice viewpoints. But those desires and interests were taken with the grain of salt they were worth. I have served in mostly near super conservative traditional settings with little college or multicultural connection in churches who took pride in being “not very Methodist” and interested in chaplain or maintenance roles of the pastor.

And part of the problem is that District Superintendents do not know the churches under their supervision, either. There is little time for those in the role of “pastor to the pastors” to learn who they are as individuals. There is an impossible task of knowing the churches whom those pastors serve. As we continue to find ways to move into a future with declining resources, the number of districts is at the top of the list of cost cutting measures. That means fewer District Superintendents to shepherd more pastors and more churches in their service area.

It is nearly impossible to know every church in a district. It is impossible to know what their needs, gifts, history, and ministry setting is. It is impossible to know what their ministry potential could be. The role of the District Superintendent in this capacity is so overwhelming that it is ridiculous to assume that they can be effective in fulfilling the task. Yet that is exactly what the expectation is.

That brings me to the third frustration I see: little accountability for District Superintendents for errors in matching pastors and churches. Whether it is a failure to hear the pastors needs, gifts, and skills or it is the lack of understanding of a church’s needs or ministry potential, if a “bad” appointment is made, it is not the fault of the District Superintendent or the Cabinet. The fault of the a failed appointment rests in the pastor not being available enough or the church being more destructive. Or it just wasn’t a good “fit”. But if pastors and churches were known at a deeper level than what is on a very biased evaluation form, those types of “fits” wouldn’t happen as often. There is no accountability to change the approach. There is no accountability to fix the system when it fails.

In my own “greatest failure” of the system, I approached 3 District Superintendents about my expressed need to be closer to Lisa’s family. At no time, that I am aware of, was that need made known in the Cabinet conversation. When we moved to the opposite end of the state, whose fault was it? Regardless of the outcome of my ministry in that appointment, the need that was expressed (and that was what it was expressed as) was ignored by my own District Superintendent and two others with whom I expressed that need. Those two were appointed to areas closer to where we needed to be. It would have been in their service area that I could have been appointed to meet that need. Whose fault does it rest upon that the need of my family was not met?

I can say that not one of those District Superintendents ever apologized. Not one ever acknowledged that nothing could have been done. Not one recognized the pain of my family when Lisa’s parents died. But I have been counseled to keep my opinions about the system on the down low. I can express my hurt, but making those hurts public would not be a good thing. Well, if we don’t make things like this public, how can we improve the system? How do we make change if we just accept the failures and the errors to continue with out accountability?

Perhaps the frustration I have struggled with the most is that I have been lied to by District Superintendents. In asking to be considered for a campus ministry position, I had a District Superintendent tell me a bold face lie. How did I know it was a lie? Because I knew campus ministries that were opening when I expressed an interest in being considered for the position. And my District Superintendent told me with a straight face that there were no campus ministry positions coming open that appointment year. I had a District Superintendent tell me that if I didn’t accept the appointment that I was being offered, that there were no other appointments available except for appointments at a lower salary level.

In an Annual Conference of 400+ churches, there were no other appointments other than the one I was being offered or something that should be served by a local pastor or student pastor. There are around 100 moves every year toward moving season. Not all of them are at Annual Conference. But somewhere in the vast wisdom of the system, it has become easier to lie to a pastor about an appointment that isn’t available than it is to be honest and express what is really in the way of that appointment. This has led to a theory and frustration.

The theory I have developed is that there is a caste system within the itinerancy. The caste system that is in place has various levels. It is easy for a pastor to move within their caste, if there is an available church. It is somewhat easy for a pastor to move down in caste, but the higher one is in caste, that downward movement is scalable. The higher one is, the less significant the move down. The lower one is, the lower the caste you can be moved into. It is very difficult to move up in caste. Breaking into a caste requires some significant presence or associations.

The frustration comes from not knowing where the lines of the castes are. I thought originally that there were three castes: the noticed, the notorious, and the supply. The noticed were pastors and churches who were in high profile positions. They were recognized and known broadly. The notorious were pastors or churches that were known to cause problems. The supply were the pastors who don’t draw attention or recognition and churches who just maintain themselves.

I think the castes may be more defined. I think there may be regional castes. I think there may be political castes. There may age-based castes. And there are “fruitfulness” castes – whoever fits into the current definition of fruitful as determined by the Bishop and authorities guiding the Annual Conference.

I consider myself a supply caste. I haven’t drawn attention to myself. I haven’t served churches that go beyond maintaining their local presence. I seem to be considered a rural caste pastor (due to the types of appointments that I have served). I am a non-entity in political castes because I have been seen as “the other” by both political extremes. And, if there is an age-based caste, I am in the Generation X group. I am too young to be part of the current powers-that-be and too old to be of vital age.

The caste that does not seem to be present is experience. Years of service and experience don’t seem to have any weight in determining where you rest in the system. I could retire soon. I could find another career and fill my days of life with another field of interest. And honestly, I don’t feel like my years of experience will be missed.

I am coming to the end of my frustrations. I have one left that seems to be a recurring beast of burden. It has to do with where I mentioned the leveraging of an appointment. It seems that there are some pastors who can refuse an appointment with no negative consequence. I’ll be honest. If it weren’t for my family, I would accept an entry level appointment. The reduction of pay wouldn’t bother me. And if we were in a better place financially, Lisa wouldn’t have a problem with it, either. I would be willing to serve an entry level appointment because it seems that my experience and current age would be a gift to an appointment that is used to breaking someone in or getting someone on their way out. I would take an entry level appointment just to refuse being leveraged into accepting “the only appointment available”. I would take an entry level appointment with 20+ years of experience just to tell the system, “You are broken.”

But some pastors can say, “No” to an appointment and be offered another chance at something that is “right” for them. There isn’t a negative consequence if they refuse to take it. It used to be a threat that if you refused an appointment, they would send you to the Panhandle or somewhere just as bad. I can tell you that the Panhandle has great churches filled with godly people. They care for their pastors and love the willingness of pastors to serve them in the love of Christ. Yet, it is challenging to get a pastor to serve in the Panhandle. It is challenging to get a pastor to accept an appointment in the “far reaches” of the state of Oklahoma. And if someone says, “No”, what will they do?

Yet the threats are still present. The leveraging of appointments is still a practice. The idea that there will be a negative consequence seems to be idle bluster. Well, I have served the Panhandle. For 10 years, I have been faithful to my appointment. I served in good times. I served in bad times personally, professionally, and congregationally. I have tried to love the people and they have tried to love me. It hasn’t always been easy for us to get along. It has always been rewarding for me to be in that appointment. And for 15 years, I have served the “far reaches”. I have been in Northwest Oklahoma longer than anywhere else in my lifetime. There are only a few regions I would like to serve in this state. But I am glad I am in Northwest Oklahoma.

This may seem like a manifesto leading to a resignation. It is, in fact, the very opposite. This is a manifesto declaring that in spite of all of these frustrations, I am remaining. I get cross with the system. I get envious of younger pastors getting bigger or more prestigious appointments than me. I let my pride get the better of me sometimes and wonder, “When is it my turn?” But God has not released me from the United Methodist Church. More importantly, God has not released me from the vow I made to the UMC.

24 years ago, I made another vow. Lisa and I stood before God and a gathering of family and friends to make a vow to stay with one another. There have been some difficult times. There have been times both of us have wanted to quit, give up, find a better way of moving forward. But we take that commitment to our vows seriously. I take my vow to the United Methodist Church and Oklahoma Annual Conference very seriously. It seems that the system has betrayed me at times. I have let it down at times. But I am not giving up on my vow and God has not released me from it. I am here to stay for some time. When God may let me know that I am free, well it may never come. It may happen should something occur in the union of the UMC. But until that day, I am appointed under the authority of the Bishop, submitted to the supervision of a District Superintendent, and sent to serve the church of Jesus Christ under the banner of the United Methodist Church.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ready, Player One?

Ready Player One movie review

Ready Player One is one of my favorite novels for entertainment factor. When the movie was announced, I was only vaguely interested. The book was going to be challenging to interpret into a movie form. The book depicts a future reality where virtual reality has replaced the education, entertainment, and consumer real world counterparts. People become so engrossed in the virtual world of The Oasis that they don’t log off except for food, sleep, and biological necessities. Anything possible or impossible becomes real in The Oasis. That meant this was going to require a heavy CGI budget.

The other thing about Ready Player One (the book) is that it is a constant stream of nostalgia for a certain type of people. The book connects with the age of persons who were babysat by an Atari 2600. They remember Alex P. Keaton’s counterculture battles with his parents. They have a secret hankering for a car that talks and has a flashing red light bar on the front. The age that those things appeal to were the target group. And I am proudly in the bullseye of that target.

The main character, Wade Watts, is the narrator of the book. The story comes from his point of view. It really becomes the power of the story because his successes and failures are the only emotional filter. That means when something happens to Wade, the reader is part of the reaction. When Wade discovers something, the reader is part of the discovery. And as the primary plot of the book is a puzzle game, discovery is a central part of advancement.

Then the movie came out. And all I can say is that the movie lost its heart.

The movie gets away from Wade’s point of view. The story draws the 4 other members of the hunting “group” Wade is a part of and the main villain into the perspective. This removes some of the punch in the emotional points of the movie. It also reveals some things without trying to bring the viewer along the road of discovery.

The emotional points of the book are life changing for Wade, but in the movie they are more distractions. Which, if you read the book you understand, are more meaningful as distractions. In translating them to film they are insignificant events. The emotional high points of the book become moderated. It is almost like Spielberg didn’t want the viewer to feel during this movie.

I am most frustrated that the movie did not remain true to the book. It didn’t keep me from enjoying the movie or respecting it on its own merits. It does, however, stand in the way giving this full credit as an adaptation. The game, the Hunt for the Egg, is totally re-written for the movie. The point of view switch includes making someone else the focus of the crucial false ending. And they move the opening act from Oklahoma City.

The greatest issue of not remaining true to the book is the level of respect for the viewer. The book is a book for readers. The vignettes and name drops are on practically every page. And it only requires a mention and the reader “sees” it. The movie, though, is a movie for non-readers. It is for video game players. It is for people who were nurtured on late forms of video games or movies. The puzzles in the book are linked to “ancient” movies and games (movies and games I feel comfortable with). The puzzles in the movie are linked to events that are depicted in the movie and very much oriented to video games of the last 10 years. The underlying ribbon that tied the puzzles together was Dungeons and Dragons. Outside of a couple of images taken from the world of D&D, there was no mention of the greatest game in history.

The movie is not a bad movie. It is okay. I wouldn’t go back to a theater and watch it. I will wait for it to hit the Black Friday movie deal. It is entertaining. It is exceptionally well done as a CGI driven film. It is internally coherent to its own story, even while it is not faithful to its source material. And the music is an ‘80’s music dream. But it just doesn’t have the heart to be good movie.

There is a lot of video game type violence. There is 1 scene that is sexually suggestive. There is no nudity except for a scene where all intimate parts are obscured. There is one foot to a groin. The language seemed to be relatively tame. I would suggest 13 and up for this movie.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ministry diagram for focus

As I was rebuilding my understanding of calling after my breakdown, I had to take it piece by piece. I returned to my original passage of scripture that I feel is my calling.
Ephesians 4:11-13
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 

It took a few weeks to come back to this verse and hear what I believe is my calling. I was called to equip believers, disciples, saints, and Christians to become mature in their faith. 

But as I explored that, I had to break it down into components to understand how I felt I was called to equip them. As I focused and meditated and pondered, 5 aspects of calling. Those 5 aspects are: drives, special callings, work areas, discipleship areas, and outcomes. What began as introspection on those aspects became an image that I have been refining. Images help me focus and this is what I have come up with:

This image is a composite of images that I used to focus on the 5 aspects. It isn't a perfect image for understanding completely what a calling upon one's life is about. This is just the clarity I have come to in my calling. 

At the top is the TRIANGLE making up the 1st Aspect: Drives in the Christian Life. Everyone has three drives as a believer, disciple, saint, and Christian. The first is Faith; that gift of grace that enables and empowers us to believe and live according to the likeness of Jesus Christ. The second is Passion. Passion is different from one person to the next. It ebbs and flows. It increases and decreases over time. Third is Calling. Every person who calls upon Jesus Christ as Lord is called. Faith is matter of accepting that call and passion is a matter of living that call out.

Next is the CORNERS in the center square highlighting the 4 Special Callings of Ephesians 4. This is the 2nd Aspect. Paul says that God has given the body of Christ 4 special called groups. These persons are a gift to the church who will enable the body of Christ to become more mature. The 4 Special Callings are Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Shepherd Teachers. Some interpretations separate the last calling into two. According to my (limited) skill in translating Greek, the text puts the greater weight of interpretation on the calling of shepherd and teacher being a combined calling. 

What about pastor-teacher? I came to a realization while studying this passage and the words used for these callings. The word used for "pastor" in this verse is the only instance of its use. In every other use of that word, it represents one of two things: shepherds who work with sheep and Jesus Christ. There is no other use in the New Testament (or the Old for that matter) where this word represents the meaning of pastor. I settled upon shepherd-teacher because I felt Jesus Christ couldn't be replaced.

The next image is the DIAMOND that represents the 3rd Aspect: The Work Areas of Ministry. I confess to coming to this image from Wayne Cordeiro's Leading On Empty. This book was recommended by my counselor. It helped me come to grips with some of the struggles I was experiencing in ministry. But the chapter on Solitary Refinement included a focus on "The Most Important Five Percent". This led me to examining the work areas that are represented in the life of one called to ministry. There were 4 work areas I identified: the work of specific Call, Gifts, Skills, and Tasks. 

Cordeiro emphasizes that 5% of what we do in ministry only we as an individual can do. God has put us in a place, individually, where there are certain things that can only be accomplished by us. I broadened this thought out to consider the entirety of what specifically we are called to do. There is a unique aspect to our calling. There is something inherent in  being a unique individual created in the image of God and filled with the Holy Spirit that makes our individual callings unique. Cordeiro puts personal discipleship, relationships, heath and wellness of body and soul. While I believe that those are responsibilities within a person's individual call, I prefer to focus on the ministry angle in this image. This represents the thing(s) we as an individual is God using us for in the work of the Kingdom of God.

Cordeiro then speaks to the 10% of what we do that someone who is trained adequately can accomplish. I consider the more important questions of what gifts and skills do we have that are ours but are also possessed among the body of Christ. Gifts are imparted to the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7) but are not necessarily unique to one person within a local congregation. Skills are things that can be trained and developed, but typically require a bit of aptitude that may not be available to all persons. 

Cordeiro says that 85% of what we do, anyone can do it. I took that to mean, what are the tasks that we have to do that someone else can do. Those things may be things that someone else can do better because they are skilled or gifted, but are somehow within the responsibility of the one in ministry at that moment. These may be things that require no skill or training, but represent that which must be done for the ongoing work of ministry. They might just be things that we are bad at, but still have to be accomplished.

I don't rank these by percentage. I also don't put any particular thing in any one area. They are ranked by priority, though. That unique thing we are called to do, that is our highest priority. The gifts and skills that we have are in place to support that thing we are called to do. The tasks that we have to accomplish are lower in priority. Unfortunately, they take a lot of our time. In a perfect work of ministry, these would be delegated out among the body of Christ so that one person does not have to carry the overwhelming load of them. But that is not always the case.

Our fourth Aspect is marked by 3 RECTANGLES highlighting the Areas of Discipleship that are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: Unity of Faith, Knowledge of the Son, and Maturity. These three seems to represent what marks the churches development. Multiple times in Paul's writing we see him encourage the church addressed in a letter to strive toward unity and one-mindedness. The Unity of Faith ensures that we are all moving in the same direction as the body of Christ and as disciples. Knowledge of the Son is the intentional study, mentoring, and meditation on who Jesus Christ is as the center of our faith. More importantly, it is the directed focus of living into the likeness of Jesus Christ in our whole life as we grow in knowledge and understanding and the love of Christ (Eph 3:19). Finally, the Maturity that Paul emphasizes is the realization of the predestined end of our being: holiness and righteousness (1:4, 5:27). Maturity is not a state of perfected action, but the movement toward realized perfection. God has already predestined us toward this state (1:4-5) and prepared to be accomplished in this state (2:10). It takes the work of maturing to finally step into this state of Maturity.The 3 Areas of Discipleship encompass the work of the body of Christ in building one another up. There is room in all three of these areas to cover the essentials of learning, serving, and renewing one another. 

The last Aspect are the outward directed Outcomes of the life of the body of Christ. It is represented in 4 PARALLELOGRAMS. The four areas of outwardly directed work of the body of Christ are Teaching, Witness, Serving, and Justice. These 4 areas represent the major areas of outcome of Jesus' ministry. Jesus spent years going about the countryside teaching through parables and direct engagement with the crowds and with the disciples. Jesus witnessed to the power of God through the healing ministry. The entire ministry of Jesus was one of serving the people as a means of bringing God's love to their reality. And the Kingdom of God message of Jesus was one that started turning the tables of power upside down. The last, least, and lost were the first. The voiceless had a champion. The outcasts were included. 

This diagram is only a small representation of how I see ministry in my life. I feel called to the church through what is portrayed here. It isn't perfect or adequate for everyone. And it is not fully fleshed out. It was the step in the right direction that I needed to bring myself back to ministry. It also frames how I will step in the coming years. It may develop and change. For now, this is how I see my life in ministry.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Would Jesus really ask it of us?

While I was sitting in morning meditation, preparing for the Sunday busyness, I was struck by a thought. Was it God? I'll let you judge. But if it was God's voice speaking, let me caution you, dear reader: don't listen to it  - God will only get you into trouble.

The thought that came to me was a paraphrase of a familiar passage of Jesus dealing with someone.
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. - Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV)
This passage arose in the midst of meditating on this thought: "God, let me represent the Kingdom of God." And then, "WHAMO!" this thought appeared in my little brain, "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your guns and give to the poor..."

I will admit that I am a gun owner and respect and enjoy guns. But this wasn't for me. Or maybe it was. But the bigger thought that surrounded that flash of inspiration was, "How would the American Church deal with Jesus if that was what he said?"

Think for a moment about the context. What good deed must we do to have eternal life? Jesus didn't respond with, "Believe and that will be enough." No, he went right to the commandments. And he got them out of order. And he didn't name all ten. And he didn't even approach the God stuff. There is nothing about idols or Sabbath in what he said. Jesus says point blank that if you need to know about eternal life, look at your relationships with people around you. And which one did he choose to start with?

Do not murder.

Then the young man says, "Hey, I'm in good. I get all of that done." So Jesus responds to the young man, "If you really want to be perfect, then sell what you possess, give that away to the poor, and you will have heavenly treasure, then follow me." Those possessions were getting in the way of that young man truly grasping what God was about. And those possessions stood in the way of that young man following Jesus in a sincere way.

I'm not going to wade into a discussion of whether "real" Christians should sell all of their possessions and take up living among the poor. I will point out, though, that Jesus got right to the heart of the issue with this young man. He wanted to know perfection. He wanted to find the full life with God that he felt was possible. He admits (humbly?) that he did all of those other things. I wonder if he did them to the level Jesus had recommended in Matthew 5-7? But he admits that he has followed the rules. He has stuck to what God has said mattered. Then Jesus pulls the mask away from the young man's eyes and says, "Here is the thing that is really in the way."

In all of the discussion today about whether guns should be controlled or the right to own guns should be upheld, I wonder why the American Church isn't saying, "What would it take to be perfect? What would the Kingdom of God require of us?"

"If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all of your possessions and give to the poor."
"If you wish to know God's perfect love, sell your beloved guns and give to the cause of protecting children and vulnerable persons."

If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, the Lord of Creation, then how can we stand by and say that guns are our right? How can we, the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ, continue to sustain a voice anywhere within us that says that guns are a God-given right?

Guns are a tool. I am the first to admit that. People wield guns for good and for evil. Guns are not inherently dangerous unless they are not respected. But the Kingdom of God is not built with guns. The Kingdom of God is built in loving God and others. The Kingdom of God is built in mercy and kindness. The Kingdom of God is built with God's justice in mind and not our justice, because our justice becomes tainted with vengeance and striking back, instead of turning the other cheek. The Kingdom of God is working toward peace while at the same time defending gun ownership.

If Jesus spoke into the American Church today and said, "You have followed the rules that are set out for you very well. The Constitution, you have guarded it well. The Declaration of Independence has been a defining statement for you. But one thing I require of you for you to really get it: sell your guns and look out for the last, the least, and the lost. Then follow me."

How would that sit with American, Bible believing churches?