I remember when my granddaughter was born. People asked, “who does she look like, her mom or her dad?” At first, I could see hints of her dad in her eyes. When she was about 6 months old, there was a photo where I was struck at how much she looked like her mom. Now this child looks like her own unique self. What I see in her now reflects something of the characteristics I see in her parents. She is bright, inquisitive, strong, filled with joy. Her sense of imagination fills the room. I see all of these qualities in her mom and dad and in this young child.
In Luther Smith’s book, Intimacy and Mission: Intentional Community as Crucible for Radical Discipleship, he writes: “Fundamental to the Christian story is the belief that Jesus’ life reveals (images) his message and meaning. Jesus embodies his religious commitment.” In other words, when people look at the church, do they see Christ at every turn? When there is joy – is Christ revealed, when there is disagreement – is Christ seen, when there is work to do – is it the work of Christ? (You are free to add to this list.)
Smith’s book challenges us right at the very beginning, saying that often what we see in the church is a need to support its current structures rather than revealing the love and face of one who sometimes challenged his followers to look beyond the structures to see the needs of the people. It’s not easy for us to read what Luther Smith has written, but it is important. We have spent close to a year in pandemic mode. Many powerful and good things have been learned throughout the difficulties of the last year. Our churches had to make changes with moment’s notice and the leaders lead those changes in dramatic and strong ways. Each and every person is owed a true debt of heartfelt gratitude.
As we look forward to what will be as more people are vaccinated, we find ourselves with the opportunity to ask God what mission and ministry will look like, carrying the lessons we have learned into a new day. Dr. Smith refers to the very best of what can be as intentional community. We see this reflected in The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church (BOD ¶161):
The community provides the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity. We believe we have a responsibility to
innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals.
Intentional Community takes prayer, discussion, and discernment long before we are ready for any type of action. So let me ask you a few questions as we face forward to a new day:
- What are the most important lessons your church has learned throughout the pandemic?
- What have been the greatest joys or successful ministries you have engaged with during the last year?
- What has your church discovered are the greatest needs of the people who live within 3 miles around your church that God may be calling you to address, based on the good things you have learned this year?
For many people it has been a difficult year, yet the church has much to offer. When people cry out for help or hope, they look to see the face of God in the community of faith. It is how we are called to live.
In the months ahead we have the opportunity to turn our eyes from what started out as survival mode ministry, to what grew into greater connections to see what is possible as we emerge from this chrysalis in which we have been living. What we will be will not be the same as what once was. Perhaps we will emerge with wings that help us fly into a new day, where we learn to let go of what we need to let go of and embrace a new form of intentional community life. What do you think? Is it possible?
I invite you to join me in reading Dr. Luther E. Smith Jr.’s book, Intimacy and Mission: Intentional Community as Crucible for Radical Discipleship. As we continue to move into this new day, trusting that the pandemic will come to an end, let us turn our eyes toward creating a new future that will empower us to work side by side for the transformation of the world.
Your Sister on the Journey,