Our Denominations general body if you will, is meeting the next two weeks in Texas. It's always an interesting time of position jockeying, politicking, ministry discerning, and oh yeah, it's also consider a Means of Grace.
In United Methodism, the General Conference, which meets only every four years, is the only body that speaks officially for our church. So as you can imagine, much work, prayer, and planning goes into this very important time.
If you're interested in following what transpires, here is the official website.
And, let's be in prayer; prayer that all those gathered would truly be seeking the will and agenda of God's kingdom, not the tiny ones we build on our own.
This past Monday & Tuesday some of the pastors of my area had the opportunity to spend some time in Sabbath retreat. It's an annual time to reconnect and recenter with lots of free time simply to be.
One of my favorite people in the whole world was there and we got to spend some time together. Phil Tousley is a fellow pastor and brother who truly drinks deep from the Spirit's well.
Anyway, we were talking a bit about the church and it's leaders when he said something that just rung so true to me. We were lamenting the whole movement of Christianity as the new self-help-self-fulfillment placebo and how this even creeps into pastoral leadership and our constant fear of "burnout" when he said:
"I'm not sure that we [pastors/leaders] really ever suffer from "burn out" as much as it is a question of spiritual bankruptcy."
Wow! We went on to talk about how the means of grace are such a vital connection between who we have been created and called to be and the One who created and called us in the first place.
Today is my study day in prep for Sunday's message. We're in the midst of a series on the 7 Deadly Sins [yeah I know, how upbeat and positive is that] that I'm calling: American Idols. Last week we talked about Greed and this week we're turning our attention to Lust. We're even having some short monologues and dialogues as message starters. I was talking about this one last night with our creative director/worship leader and encouraged him to keep it "rated-G".
I'm looking at the story of David and Bathsheba this one. I love the verse one of 2 Samuel 11:
In the spring, at the time hen kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the kings men and the whole Israelite army." [David stayed in Jerusalem...ooops!]
Currently I am blogging live from a retreat where we're spending time talking about imagining alternative communities of faith and new church start initiatives.
Last night we spent some time in small groups talking about things that really jazz us. My group dealt with intentional missional urban or sub-urban [not "suburban" but communities that exist in close proximity to a city center but would have their own unique identities] communities and how the UMC might be able to creatively begin to live this out by networking with existing urban/sub-urban churches and/or starting intentional communities where a group of people intentionally give themselves to an area of a city and move in not to "save" the city but to live the kingdom of God among the people in the way of Jesus.
It sparked some pretty exciting conversation. It's something we really haven't really attempted yet in our conference of the Methodist Church although we have some amazing existing and historic ministries that are thriving and changing lives in urban settings.
For the next two days I'll be in retreat at one of denominations beautiful conference centers on Lake Huron. I'll be meeting with a group of other pastors to talk about church planting and creative ministry among other things. We get together every couple of months to feed off one another's thoughts and ideas.
I may do some live blogging during some of our sessions together as we discuss how the Body of Christ might be re-imagined and reinvigorated through the initiative of new faith communities and the revitalization established ones that possess the desire to move into the 21st century world.
So I've taken a break from McKight's A Community Called Atonement [I'll get back to that soon!] and have been reading Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. Dan Kimball has been blogging about it here. I'm sure he's done a much more thorough job of critiquing it then I will.
I guess what has struck me so far is how the authors believe that there is so little that is redemptive in the way in which the contemporary [or historic for that matter] church has structured its life. Now I will be the first to agree that there are many things that we do in our churches that clearly don't find the surest footing in the Scriptures. In fact in my own denominational tribe the way we speak of our ordained clergy as "elders" isn't exactly exegetically sound.
But I guess what concerns me when I read this book is the question: are we in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water? Don't get me wrong. I believe that in many ways we need an ecclesiastical revolution of sorts. In fact I think that it's long over due. But are we structurally and organizationally suspect simply because we have adopted some things from places other than the pages of the Scriptures. What I mean is that isn't a church, to some degree going to reflect the culture if finds itself in. Now, one would hope for sure that it would only adopt that which is admirable, just, praiseworthy and true.
As I've been reading the book it's made me think of conversations that I've had with people like Doug Pagitt and the good people at Solomon's Porch. Doug talks about how in their life together they celebrate a "radical priesthood of all believers" in that anyone in the church, if they so desire can officiate a wedding, baptize, celebrate the Eucharist and teach/preach [man Doug I hope my memory is serving me correctly. If not please feel free to chime in!]. I must admit, as a person entrenched in an historic religious institution, in which by and large, people are extremely ready and even eager to allow the pastor to do the typical "pastor" things such as preaching/teaching, funerals, hospital visits, etc...there is something inherently attractive about empowering the body of Jesus to adopt a radical orthodox understanding as their role as a kingdom of priests.
Viola [and one would presume Barna as well due to the fact that his name is on it] asserts that the true biblical understanding of the church lies [at least it seems to me thus far 3/4 of the way through the book] in a network of small intimate house churches where leadership is shared and mutual and a place in which everyone has a platform to offer and encouraging word. Viola argues, and I believe rightly so, that when one describes a church, for instance lets say in Ephesus, in the Scriptures they are not suggesting that there is one large cathedral or city church there but a network of house gatherings that together form the church at Ephesus.
I think that few could argue that with the arrival of Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the religion of the state, that the primal church had a considerable amount of the wind taken out of its sails. The church has always grown the most during periods of persecution. It's when it has become "fat and sassy" that it has seemed to loose its sense of mission and vision. I don't think that my mind has been changed a great deal by Viola's and Barna's book but it certainly has been a thought provoking read and the authors have presented a well researched bibliography. They certainly are not simply shooting from the hip. It's an informative read for anyone in church leadership.
I'll offer a few more thoughts when I finish the book.
That's all for now.
Well for the first time in almost 9 years of public ministry I will have to cancel a service due to illness. Per Dr.s orders he feels that I'm too contagious and will probably too weak to host services. So my leadership and I made the tough choice to cancel service tonight.
I have a wonderful retired Pastor and his wife who worship with us, but they are in Texas, even after taking a nasty fall and breaking his hip. He would have jumped in a heartbeat.
So, today, I sit humbly, knowing my congregation will be worshiping at other area local churches. Pray for them and for me, so that I will be up and running for tomorrow and Sunday services.
I was perusing my latest denominational gift and curriculum catalogue when I came across a set of pages dedicated to our General Church Conference that will be taking place in Fort Worth, Texas in just a short while.
I have to say I was shocked and disappointed by what I saw. I am as loyal to my beloved denomination as the next leader but I must say I was disturbed to see that they were selling a bunch of commemorative General Conference jewelry and accessories, including no less that four watches listing at $89.00 a piece, two which bore the General Conference 2008 logo and two which bore our beloved Cross and Flame.
In addition to that there were General Conference limited edition and denominational accessories such as wallets, legal pad notebooks, checkbook covers, etc...
Now, I'll be the first to admit that the General Conference is a big deal. Meeting once every four years it is the only voice that speaks for the denomination. Much good and important work is done there by dedicated United Methodist leaders who help to shape the future of the church. I guess what I am wondering is why do we need to spend $89.00 on a commemorative watch when those monies could be dedicated to host of other ministry areas such as clean water initiatives, hunger and poverty ministries. etc. Do we really need to don a beautiful two-tone brushed stainless steel watch to commemorate this important meeting when people are starving around the world or being poisoned by unclean drinking water? It just seems a little grandiose to me. I just couldn't see John Wesley proudly wearing one.
As a denomination we are a little less than 8 million strong here in the United States alone. Lets say that 2000 people are participating in our General Conference [just an estimate I really don't know] if each dedicated that $89.00 to mission and ministry work instead of a commemorative watch that would equal $178,000 of funds that could go to say feed the poor.
Anyway, I'm sick today and perhaps a little cranky but I guess I was just a little disappointed by such an affluent showing of our denominational pride. I know that there are hundreds of ways that I over spend when my money could go to better feed and clothe the poor. So in a sense I'm throwing the first stone as one who is as entrenched in the commercial materialism of the Empire as the next person. I guess I'm just wondering why we need commemorative watches.
I've never blogged through a book before but I thought I's share some thoughts on Scot McKnight's "A Community Called Atonement"
Being that its the week before Holy Week, I thought I'd give myself to reading Scot's book on this important subject. So far: I Like!
I need to begin with a confession: I've never been to crazy about modern day atonement theories. It seems to me they straddle somewhere between the "we've got this all figured out" and the "we can't really say much about it" camps.
At it's core I do believe that the atonement is "mystery" but I think there is a great deal we can say about it.
I tend to agree with Joel Green who suggests in his excellent book, "Recovering the Scandal of the Cross" that within the Scriptures there are several models or frameworks for what we have come to call the atonement. And, I must admit all of them resonate with me on some level. I think that we should be comfortable with that. In the western church we have focused on one primarily which I believe is a detriment to the others.
What makes matters worse, at least for me, is that we take this amazing event and reduce it to something that is inherently personal; this whole idea of Jesus and me as my "personal" Lord and Savior. And, then we attempt to live in community as loosely connected automatons.
I, so far have really enjoyed McKnight's approach that the atonement is not individualized but communal in nature. It effects us on the individual level on so that we can live it's reality together in community: With God and neighbor.
So here goes my take on Chapter 1:
He begins with this idea of asking the question whether or not the atonement works in that it creates a change in us so that we might live reconciled lives to God and one another. Of course his answer is yes, it has the potential to, but he echoes the sentiments of my generation [not so much chronologically as theologically and ecclisalogically] when he says:
"This generation is tired of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not make a difference, of an old-fashioned atonement theology that is for individual spiritual formation but not for ecclesial-reformation, and of an old fashioned atonement theology that does not reconcile humans with humans....If a previous generation was taught that evangelism and social justice were disconnected, even if one could [or even should] flow from the other, the present generation knows of a holistic human being in an interlocking society of connections where any notion of gospel or atonement must be one that is integrated and community-shaped if it is to be called 'good news' at all." p.2
To which I reply a hearty: AMEN!
He goes on to share this beautiful story of a person he knows who embodied this idea of being transformed for the sake of the other and then moves into asking the question: which atonement theory will it be. He suggested that whichever theory a church lands on as it's primary model will shape how the church lives out their understanding in the community and will give shape and form to its preaching.
Then I began to think: If we have been, at least in the western world, peddling a primarily penal substitutionary theory of atonement, which I think many believe, whether they would admit or not, seems to put the "Father" at odds with the son [which I don't believe it does], then what picture of God are we painting and what kind of communities are we creating?
I would argue that with this as our primary understanding we are creating communities of hierarchical authority that has a ticked off God as it's head who can only love the people created in God's image if his son takes the hit. Justice and judgement, at least it seems to me, then become much more retributive and personal than redemptive and communal.
Well, those are my brief thoughts on chapter 1. I'll try to add more as I move through the others. If you've read the book and would care to comment and dialogue I'd welcome it.