What has your church learned through the last 7 months? (ok – I imagine that first question was enough to cause you to stop reading, but I invite you to push through the sense of “ugh” and see where it leads.)
The initial hypothesis for the series of newsletter articles I have been writing is this: people, systems, and nations often change more when they go through times that shake things up than when everything is going along as normal. The temptation is to survive the crisis and wait until things return to normal.
As I have begun meeting virtually with churches for their charge conferences, I am asking what all the superintendents are asking, “what have you learned?” The disruption of this season offers us the amazing opportunity to refocus on the meaning and purpose of why our churches exist. Already I am hearing people say that at one time they felt an important part of church was the Sunday morning worship time, when people were together in one room, where they could hug each other as they talked together. And what the churches that have shared with me already have been learning is that church is so much more than the building. It is about real connection; it is about finding ways to offer grace and love to one another. Some have found this disruptive time provides an opportunity to really dig into the social issues that have been easily and systemically ignored.
What I am hearing people tell me is that there is a shift from “church is all about me” to church is about those outside our doors. We’ve known that intellectually, but it has not always been easy to live into an outward focused ministry.
Kavin Rowe, in his article, “1Why does your Christian community exist?” writes about the importance of a community having an ability to simply state the reason for its existence:
Knowing the ultimate reason for a community’s existence, however, is not automatic, a given, or something that magically appears in a person’s head upon joining. Much to the contrary, it has to be taught and transmitted, which is also to say learned and received. It takes time, in other words, and requires mechanisms of transmission. It cannot be sufficiently learned in the blink of the eye it takes to read an email or a text message but is instead something into which one is inducted.
The necessity to teach and learn the community’s raison d’être is nowhere seen more clearly than in the first and paradigmatic episodes in Acts (chapters 2 and 4). Upon joining the church, the new converts devoted themselves to the doctrinal instruction (didachē) of the apostles. The leaders of the church thought it necessary to teach the fundamentals of their communal life.
The pain of isolation, the grief over the numbers of people diagnosed with or dead from the coronavirus has moved us to a place of rediscovering some of the deeper realities of our faith. Then when the horrible murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others whose names we must start saying over and over, we found ourselves exploring scripture and history in a different light. This is leading us to challenge how we live as individuals and as a community together.
The fundamentals of our communal life are shifting because of the awakening we are living through. I believe this is what God wants to see happen. Wesley taught us that from a place of personal piety we are able to live a more socially holy life. The two must be connected. Personal piety finds its fullest expression in living social holiness. Blinders off. Honest Self-Reflection. Critical thinking. Humble Confession. Commitment to Act.
The slogan for The United Methodist Church has been “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” It’s no longer a big enough, or impactful enough of a slogan. What slogan would you write for your local congregation because of what you have learned through this season? Would it be one that clearly shapes and reshapes actions in a way that impacts society? Would it be one that lets people know exactly why you exist? Would it be one that declares to all the world that “if you come into this place, this is what you can expect to happen in and through your life?”
The days of a passive church are over. Impact Church is moving in. How will you share the message?
Your Sister along the way,