Mission

Who We Are, When We Are, Where We Are . . .

By Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee

Since my first memory of church there’s been a constant struggle to “redefine” who the church is, what we are doing, and to whom we are doing it.  I grew up in the age of vision statements, mission statements and the like.  They all serve a good purpose.  They help us to articulate the mission to which we have been called and the church’s best possible understanding of how to make that happen. 

I have witnessed churches spend months and months crafting delightful vision and mission statements.  I have participated in developing well-thought out carefully worded phrases that encapsulate the essentials of the gospel as lived out in a specific time and place.  I do not deny the usefulness of such activities because it gives focus and intention to the work we are called to do.

I do, however, wonder if we sometimes get so lost in the work of producing documents about being church, or in philosophizing about church, or even preaching about church that we forget to be church in the moment.  We meander about waiting for the next step and busy ourselves fretting over who is going to sit next to us in the coming years that we completely neglect the work and the identity that is now. 

In the interests of full disclosure, I have been accused of being impulsive.   I do like spontaneity and creativity.  I also recognize that there does need to be a road map to the church’s identity. 

Last week, I preached from Matthew 5.  Jesus tells those who are listening that they are salt and light.  They are a city on a hill.  What I love about this text is that Jesus does not say that we have to prepare to become these things.  Jesus says that we are salt, we are light, and we are a city on the hill.    That’s the vision statement.

I am a member of a congregation that just made a tough financial decision.  Some were disquieted by it, some were relieved, but in the end most understood that it was a decision that allows the church to continuing being salt and light in our city.  One member stated that if we spend our money in such a way as to maintain ourselves we have lost our flavor and we have hidden our light under a bushel.  If we use our money in such a way as to continue in ministry and make the Good News known in the community, then we are living into our saltiness and producing light. 

So many of us are afraid to claim who we are in this world because a stigma that has been placed upon us as Christians.  Even today, announcing ourselves as Christians is often met with a roll of the eyes or a sigh.  It does not matter.  We are who we are, when we are, where we are.  We are conveyors of God’s presence in the world when we offer food to a stranger or shelter from the rain.  We are seasoning our towns and communities with God’s love when we pass the peace to a cashier at the grocery store.  We are lighting a little of the darkness when we choose to spend our time and money giving instead of collecting.  It is that simple.

The church is the church because God has called us to gather in the presence of others who are salt and light.  We are who we are, in this time, and in this place—where ever that may be.  We do not have to ponder it any longer.  We only have to claim our saltiness, own our light, and live it out at the top of the hill.

No Red Ink on the Vision Test

By JC Mitchell

As a boy in elementary school, I would sometimes tussle with other boys. Generally we would not hurt each other, but sometimes it would result in a visit to the nurse’s office. During one such incident, my head hit against a cement wall. It hurt some, but I felt I was fine; however, the teacher did not believe me, but who would argue with a teacher that was allowing you to go to the nurse’s office and miss some of class(as we were just coming in from recess)? The nurse examined me and asked questions. I was determined to be fine, diagnosis “boy.” The last question posed during the nurse’s examination was, “Are you seeing double?” My response worried her, as I stated, “No more than usual.” I was seeing double often while reading and I just trained and strained myself to read both images simultaneously. The nurse, concerned and curious, did some tests and discovered what I thought was normal: I saw double. What I also remember about her is she did not make me feel stupid for thinking that seeing double was normal, and she did not make me nervous about this situation.

I went to the optometrist, and I must say that was an exciting experience. It was explained to me that everyone has a focal point in which when you get closer to the eyes, one will see double, but generally it is centimeters from the nose, not an arm’s length. This doctor prescribed intense exercises. I had various contraptions and ditto papers and spent one to two hours a day strengthening my eyes, so my focal point would be in a normal range. I was committed because reading, which I greatly enjoy, was much easier with only one image.

I share this anecdote to emphasize the importance of knowing vision in the church.  We in the church world use this term often, and it is not easily defined as it is different for each ministry and congregation, while also being part of God’s Vision.  I assume that there is an importance of vision, for it is what drives a congregation and/or ministry in the direction of God.  We know that it is not simple to find a vision, but it is just as important to realize when your ministry has lost or been burdened with poor vision. Just as I believed seeing double was normal, many churches and ministries keep going, not realizing they would have a difficult time reading the bottom line on the metaphorical eye chart.

For many, the reality of finances brings a congregation to the metaphorical optometrist.  However, I want to share the story of a local food bank I was involved with this past year that closed.  The bank had been serving the community for 30 years, but the original vision of helping people between applying for food stamps and receiving them is now outdated.  Other food banks had taken form over the past decade serving the community more efficiently and in greater numbers.   The food bank needed a new vision of how to utilize their resources.  For various reasons the need of a new vision was not taken up by the board and the volunteers, until the vote that closed the bank.  Even a year before, a vote keeping it open (by one vote) didn’t get enough people realizing the need of a vision.  However, this ministry did not lack resources.  We had enough food, especially canned corn (not sure why so much corn), and we could have continued for 15 years without raising anymore funds, at the level of help we were providing, give or take a couple of years.

My point is that vision has nothing to do with finances.

We need to not wait until it is reflected by red ink.

My question is what is, or can be, our metaphorical eye chart?  (comment away)

Identity Crisis

I have not been back to my alma mater’s campus in 13 years. The year I graduated college, the school was gifted more land and some buildings from a closed plant and since my graduation the campus size has grown to more than twice its original size. Buildings have changed functions and many have been remodeled and renamed. In talking with a few alumni today, including family members, the first thing everyone said was “My, how it has changed,” and expressed some disappointment. As I walked around campus and recalled some wonderful memories, I realized that most of the greatest memories were not specifically about the place but about the people I was with at the time, friends that I have kept in touch with as well as friends who have slipped away. Professors who have since retired and staff who have moved on—all the relationships I made in the four years I was there.  It is not the same, but the experiences and memories will stay with me.

I also visited the church I attended during my four years of college.  It, too, has changed—there was a building expansion and remodel after I graduated.  The sanctuary has added a stage and things have been moved around.  It is different.  Many of the people I knew have passed on, but there are still familiar names.

We all know we have mistaken the church for the building, and we continue to do so in mistaking the church for the institution.  People complain about change. Things are different. They aren’t how they used to be.  The truth is, they never will be the same, things are always changing, and most of the time, things were never exactly the way we remembered them, anyway.

In order for the church to truly be transformed—or be the church, the body of Christ that Paul experienced—we have to get away from building and institutional identity. The church is the ecclesia, the gathering of people. It is not the building. It is not the four-board structure with a moderator.  It is not the Pastor’s Bible Study on Sunday morning.  It is not the Fellowship Hall or the kitchen or the sanctuary.  Church happens in those places, but they are not the church.

In order for the church to continue to exist we must move away from this mistaken identity.  Otherwise we will always complain about things changing, especially when our roles within the institutions change and the building is changed.

Relationships, however, are things that are always changing every time we interact with someone. Friendships change and grow, sometimes they grow apart. Families change and grow. We expect this. We expect people to grow up and grow old. We expect friendships to change and strain and grow.  We take this for granted. At times we are surprised when a friendship grows cold or a relationship ceases, but I don’t know anyone who expects their relationships to always stay the same. We know that people change and grow.  However, we have put this expectation on our churches to stay the same.

Our relationship with God changes and grows.  We all experience transformation in relationship with Christ and do not expect to remain the same after we encounter God.  We hope to experience lifelong growth with God in our journey of faith.  But again, we put this expectation on our churches, to stay the same.

It is time to for us to let go of our identity as a place or a particular structure.  We are the church, ecclesia, the gathering of people.  When we remember this, we know that change will always come, and that it is welcome, it is familiar, and it is what is necessary for us to continue to grow.  Otherwise, if we remain committed to keeping our identity as a structure or building, we will continue to be disappointed, continue to sigh when something new happens, and continue to wish we could go back in time to the way things used to be.  We can be stuck, or we can grow.

What We Need Is Adventure

Growing up, Goonies was one of my favorite movies.

It had lots of things a 10 year old boy loved - pirate ships, skeletons, sparkling jewels, funny characters, ice cream, booby traps, mean villains, and water slides.

I realize that Goonies isn't the greatest example of cinema. Sure, it has a sense of fun and a handful of good moments, but the sets look like a cheap theme park ride, the acting is over the top, and Cyndi Lauper rarely makes my iTunes playlist.

But in my book, Goonies got something dead on - the dream of many of us youngsters who longed for a good, old fashioned adventure.

That’s the only reason Goonies has persisted in my imagination. I didn’t just like the film - I wanted that film to be my story. I wanted to discover buried treasure in my backyard.

As a youngster, I spent many of my summers exploring the beauty of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, an amazing stretch of rocky wilderness in southwest Oklahoma that was haunted by the legend of folks like mobster Al Capone and outlaw Jesse James. Somewhere and somehow, there had to be gold in those ancient hills. Those short expeditions were a break from the mundane and an entryway into a world of mystery and excitement. Even as a father and minister, that longing and thirst for adventure has stayed with me.

Rabbi Edwin Friedman, in his work about family systems theory, once taught that “the only way to get a system unstuck is to go on an adventure”.

Whether it is a political system that lacks any sense of moral imagination, a church that seems to bear more witness to judgmentalism than good news, an organization that fails to protect the very people it is designed to serve, or a declining congregation that gets keeps rearranging the deck chairs rather than engage in deep discernment about their calling, there are stuck systems all around us.

I often get to speak with members of other congregations and enjoy finding out what God is up to in their community. In particular, I love to hear what is the most unique about their community. The vast majority of the time, I hear how people love their church because it is warm and caring, like a “family”. I don’t often hear about daring ministry projects, unique efforts to reach out to their neighborhood, exciting initiatives to love others, or ongoing transformation through spiritual disciplines. I know how valuable warm and caring community is for each of us, but a church without a thirst for adventure is likely stuck.

Not all churches are like this. Sometimes, adventure happens without our choosing, whether it is a devastating hurricane that forces a congregation to turn its building into a mission center, the loss of a beloved pastor that moves a community to reexamine its vision, or a grim financial report that suggests only a few months of “normal” ministry remain before bills go unpaid.

But for the rest of us, our stuck system won’t change until someone (or a bunch of someones) does something radical, more than adding a worship service, hiring a new pastor, changing the style of music, or building a website. We have to have an adventure. As Helland and Hjalmarson say in Missional Spirituality, we long to be “freed to venture out on reconnaissance with Christ on mission in the wide open expanse of God’s cathedral in creation and culture.”

Or as Jesus so often does, we have to embrace the unexpected, rounding up people from the streets, “both good and bad”, for God’s banquet (Matthew 22:10), going two by two with nothing but the clothes on our back and a spring in our step (Luke 10:1), venturing into the rough part of town to be transformed by folks different than us (Mark 7:25), or partying with people of ill repute (Luke 5:27-32).

I suppose this huge theme of adventure that runs throughout the Bible, starting with Abram’s call to go to a distant land and continuing through the Great Commission and launch of the early church, continues to feed and prick the imagination of that 10 year old Goonie inside of me.

No, there may not be buried gold in my backyard, but there is an epic story unfolding all around, the work of Creator, Son, and Spirit reclaiming, renewing, and making whole.

May we join that adventure, and in the words of Shane Claiborne in Jesus for President, “live the contagious love of God.”

Authenticity: Goal or Sign?

Authentic is a word I have heard and have used to describe church.  However, when you look up the definition you will find the definition to be very specific.  That is, something claiming to be authentic can be proven, such as what one would see on Antiques Roadshow, "this is an authentic 17th century vase" or" first printing" of whatever favorite comic book (or graphic novel, as you may prefer).  However, we use this word for humans and human institutions such as church, and it is far from specific or able to be demarcated. So how do we know if we are moving toward authenticity as a person of faith and especially as a community of faith?  I am not positive, yet when I have experienced it I have known it, such as when viewing art--you just know.

I believe that there are at least four signs that authenticity is close, which are the following:

Passion—is there enthusiasm, excitement, and optimism about the community?

Vision—can everyone concisely name what the community has and continue to discern what they are doing for God’s culture on earth as it is in heaven?

Mission—is the love discerned coming out as action and not simply good thoughts and feelings?  Are there actual goals of the vision being completed?

Laughter & Tears—are the people in this part of the Body of Christ able to laugh and cry together?

These signs are important to the church but they are not the legalistic definition of authenticity.  Probably the greatest sign you are on the right direction is if you are not worried about being authentic.

I remember during college going to the co-op coffee shop with two other great friends.  We would drink coffee and tea and read and write (paper and pen), two to three times a week.  We had no idea we were observed by anyone else, but one night a young person came up to our table and said something about us being cool, just being there visiting with friends and studying and discussing the topic of the evening.  We were shocked at this individual’s need to say something, yet we were not quite sure if it was sarcasm or truly a compliment. That night we spent about a second discerning why this person shared with us and left quickly.

That story reminds me that authenticity is not determined by those outside, and that coffee house table of comrades was truly being authentic and did not let an outside observation, be it positive or negative, affect our behavior.

To know if we are being authentic, we cannot make that a goal--it is truly a sign of a healthy community or person of faith.

Is authenticity the goal, or the sign we are following the Divine?

Church with No Forwarding Address

I have been called by Bellevue Christian Church to be their pastor and planter.  The latter is of course very new territory that has no physical address, and at this time, the possibilities are endless, making vision the first goal.  However, I am writing not about the plant but about the exciting existing congregation: Bellevue Christian Church.  I met this congregation in person a month after they sold their wonderful physical facilities. The building was too big and too expensive to maintain for this “graying” congregation.  The decision must have been difficult and gut-wrenching, but these heroes did just that.  This group of Christians did the unthinkable--they sold the building. Σπλαγχνίζομαι (Splanchnizomai) is the word that comes to my mind when I think of Bellevue Christian Church.  The root of this word it splangchna, “pity” or more literally “bowels.”  Specifically, it was used to refer to the organs removed in a blood sacrifice prior to the Christian context, when it started being used to refer to being moved to compassion from the gut.[i]  As I wrote above this decision was gut-wrenching, and their decision was based on self-care.

Splanchnizomai is the word Jesus uses for the hungry crowds (Matthew 15:32; Mark 8:2).  It is wonderful that Jesus refers to this feeling of pity coming up through his “guts.”  Thus it should be also when the Body of Christ (Church) should also feel and act.  To truly understand compassion it is important that the empathy is from the gut.  Even when you are part of the crowd and the Body of Christ, even when it’s about your local congregation, you need to search your gut for the way.

Bellevue acted on this compassion, and left their building.  They have funded some great things with the sale, but what is important is this congregation still exists.  They are currently visiting a local UCC congregation for Sunday morning worship, which may or may not be a new home, and may or may not be 50% more people to the congregation.

It may have felt like, and still is, a sacrifice for some of the members. It is also self-care.  They could have kept the church in the building, renting it out more, developing programs that would attract a family or two.  However, in their collective gut they knew what was compassionate.  And just as Jesus was moved to feed the thousands with limited resources, they opened up many resources for scholarships, multiple plants, regional ministries, and their own authenticity.

Their own authenticity is going to be their greatest gift to themselves, as well as part of their new vision.   Instead of worrying about the building or growing, we will be worrying about our spiritual practices, about each other, and we will grow.  However, I don’t know where.

Saving the "Saved" language

Language is a complex concept to begin with.  Add in culture, another complex concept—with regional, ethnic and socio-economic facets—and then generational understandings, speaking to another person even in technically the same language may result in garbled nonsense when trying to have a dialogue.  Then throw in theological language with all those understandings and facets and you begin to understand why two Christians of the same denomination, even the same church, can sometimes believe that they believe in two different Gods, or two different Jesus’. Even though I grew up in a liberal mainline small congregation, in my high school and college years I got very concerned with “being saved,” and with others “being saved.”  Now I have to explain: for some “being saved” means being saved from hell and going to heaven.  For me, “being saved” meant being acceptable to God because somehow I believed in my original state—in other words, who I was—was somehow not good enough for God.  I grasped on to this concept of “being saved” through the end-of-the-week altar calls at church camp, summer after summer.  In college, this manifested itself in the Campus Crusade for Christ meetings and other such gatherings where, most of the time, older men told us that the things we were doing as typical teens and young adults were sinful, that we were separated from God and therefore unworthy.  To make matters worse, often young, charismatic adults were recruited in these gatherings to reach out to us to tell us how we needed to “be saved.”

So nevermind the teachings of my church.  Nevermind the feeling I had when I was thirteen of God moving in me that someday I would be a minister.  Nevermind that I had been baptized when I was thirteen.  I still needed to be saved.  And more than once.  It seemed like I was never good enough for God when all these people kept telling me I needed to be saved.  And I felt that I wasn’t doing my part because I wasn’t out trying to save others all the time (actually, I did try, and I strained a few friendships because of it—people who still to this day won’t set foot in a church, and I played my part).

During my junior year of college when I took a course titled “Fundamentals of Sociology” I began to understand the complexity of social structures, culture, and other layers of our communities.  Even though I am quite certain my professor wanted nothing ever to do with Christianity or religion for that matter (except to study it in research), I credit her with my understanding of systemic sin.  Through that course I began to understand the role of power and patriarchy at play in the Christian church tradition in general.  I began to see how the systems and structures in place in our world kept the power out of the hands of the poor and oppressed.  And I began to see how this power play was at work in the very language of my faith.

I abandoned the term “saved” at that time.  I wanted nothing to do with being saved.  I was definitely a follower of Jesus but I was no longer trying to coerce others to think and believe the way I wanted to.  I stopped using much of the language of the Christian youth gatherings I had been a part of.   I stopped singing the praise songs about redemption and sacrifice.  I stopped going to any gathering where crying would be part of the worship experience.  I wanted to get away from anything that was emotionally charged, where power played on the fears of others, where emotions were manipulated to get us to commit to a relationship we already had with God.  I refused to use the word “saved.”

Even in seminary I avoided the term “saved.”  I argued with my field education supervisor who told me that there may be times when I need to “speak the language” that I still could not bring myself to use a word that had been used in such a manipulative, even abusive, way.  I would not ever make someone feel that they were not good enough for God.  I would not ever use a word that had made me feel that I was hopeless, helpless, and unworthy, the way I had perceived others telling me I needed to be “saved.”

Then it happened.  A family started coming to my church, a blended family with unmarried parents.  One of the parents came to me and asked me about what they needed to do to be “saved.”  I was taken aback.  At first I tried to explain that God desires relationship with us and that we can be in relationship with God and others, but as we talked, I realized she was very concerned about wanting to be in heaven.  She needed the reassurance.  She needed the hope.  And I realized I could not have a different conversation about Christ without her having the assurance first that she was “saved.”  So I did something I hadn’t done in years.  We prayed a salvation prayer, similar to the ones I had learned in my conservative youth group days.

But the difference this time was that the journey didn’t end there.  This was the beginning.  We were able to continue to meet, dialogue, and pray together, and her understanding of relationship with God through Jesus developed far beyond just a doorway into heaven.

I’m still not a fan of saying one needs to “be saved” or “get saved” in terms of talking about my own faith journey.  But I recognize that while for me, that language seemed damaging and hurtful, for others, it is familiar and comforting.  And having known people coming out of addiction or out of prison, people who have been able to come out of the darkness of depression—sometimes, people really are “saved” by Christ, in the real sense of the word: without relationship with Christ, they would have been lost, dead.

There is a danger, and I know I am guilty of this, in allowing language to be co-opted by another group, to the point one refuses to use it anymore.  In the liberal/mainline church, we have begun to abandon the language of our tradition and have allowed it to be used and misused by others.  Evangelical basically means “eager to share the Gospel.”  The Good News of Jesus the Christ.  But we have allowed evangelical to mean a particular theological/political slant.  We have abandoned the language of redemption and salvation at times to leave behind blood atonement theologies that don’t work for us, choosing a friendlier language for Jesus (remember “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma?) as if Jesus went smiling to the cross, instead of suffering, and dying.

Language matters.  And sometimes we in the liberal/mainline church have given over the language of our tradition to the point that our language cannot cross social-cultural boundaries.  We cannot reach out to those looking for a more progressive church home who still value their faith in Jesus, who understand their Savior as one who has really saved them from a life of sin, or from a life without meaning, or from hell itself.

As our 21st century church cultures continue to shift and transform, I think we will find many more who have grown up in the evangelical or fundamentalist churches looking for congregations that are welcoming and affirming of GLBTQ folk, congregations committed to social justice, congregations truly trying to make a difference in the world around them, here and now.  But can we learn their language and even have a conversation, or do we assume that they are abandoning their concept of relationship with Jesus as Savior as they abandon the prejudices their old churches may have held?  Can we speak the language of “being saved” by Christ, and understand our own faith journey in a language that we have once shed?  Can we share our language in a way that is not condescending or judgmental of the variety of theological backgrounds we come from?

Kegger at Jesus'!

When I was in high school, I lived for someone's parents to leave and for the house party to go off. I was part of that group that played the music or threw the parties. I was not musically inclined outside of the random hardcore and punk groups I got to front. I was a really big fella. So, I got to bounce all the parties. When someone's parents were planning that weekend getaway, we were playing that weekend's kegger.

I get butterflies just writing about it now. So and so would inform someone that their parents were going out of town and that they would be left 'home alone!" That someone would call another person and soon the bands were organized, the kegs procured and the buzz spread. This was how our emerging suburban Los Angeles scene flowed.

That Friday after school we would show up to the "abandoned" house with sound equipment. We would set up and do a sort of silent sound check. Folks would arrive with the kegs (The funny part is that we used to buy Near Beer cause it was cheaper and we made more money from it. Nobody knew the difference.) The kegs would be iced and we would set a perimeter for security.

Then as evening approached the car loads of teenage boys and girls would park and walk up to the party. I would collect money from them and mark their hands with a marker. We could make a couple thousand of dollars from the five-buck admission we charged for Near Beer and "decent" angry youth music. Every once and a while I would let a cute girl in, hoping that would better my chance of her thinking I was cool and I could ask her out.

The backyard would fill up. Every nook and cranny would be filled and they all awaited the stage to light up and the band to play. We were kings of our little fiefdom fueled by punk and hardcore, all of us looking for something to be angry about or someone to listen to our anger.

The band would take the stage and unleash a massive wave of shock and awe upon the Near Beer soaked crowd of kissy-faced teens and macho shirtless, mohawked man-boys. We would storm our anger in to the pit and smash each others faces as we fought the changing world around us. Gone was the safety of Big Wheels and comic books. This was the post-Reagan era in an area roughed up by cuts to the Military Industrial Complex. We knew a few of us had a future; we just were not sure of who those few were. Our dream was to graduate high school and maybe get a job at SEARS fixing washer and dryers. We might be considering college as a way to escape the uncertainty but tonight we had the "pit."

Then, just as we really started getting in to it and that cute girl I let in for free was going to give me her number the COPS showed up. A neighbor had called the police and demanded they break up the party. There was a mass exodus from the backyard. Sweaty mohawked teens jumped fences carrying their teenaged angst with them. The "drunken" teen girls sat dazed and confused, only to be pulled up by their friends and make a mad dash to the other door. The police, almost lovingly, flashed their flashlights on the exiting crowds making sure they dumped out the beers and walked home.

The band tried to pack up really quickly so their gear would not get confiscated. The someone whose house it was cried inside as they saw their social life waver. I was gone when we saw the police pull up and shouted out to the others, "POLICE!" We were already a block over before the mohawked kids jumped the fence.

The parents are called and the someone is reprimanded. That someone has the potential to be legend. The parental fears are stoked and they never go on another vacation again.

I fear that the church looks at the younger generations with this kind of dread. "If we leave, they will mess it all up." True, we are excited and do not look at the world with the same kind of eyes. We are uniquely ourselves. We have different values. We have different priorities. We have different dreams and hopes for our lives. We have different pressures and woes. We are different.

Almost 20 years later, if left with an empty house I am more likely to got to bed early than throw a kegger. My youth is fleeting. I am nearer to 40 than I am to 30. In my youthful sunset I hear "We need young families/young adults/youth in the church" a lot. It seems to be all over the church profiles out there.

Every church is looking for a 30-something pastor. He is white, tall with a nice build. He has a beautiful wife that studied music in college and they have three lovely, well behaved children that angelically glide around church without a sound.

He is great with youth, can preach like Craddock, tell stories like Hemingway, is the best counselor, can fundraise blood from a turnip and will get butts in the seats to continue the ministry of the church just as it always has been.

The problem is that that guy no longer exists. No one can do everything.

There are countless folks out there searching for a place to serve. Every year we graduate another class of hopeful ministers in to a system with no room for them to serve. As the church wrestles with what to do many creative, young ministers leave ministry for "a job." They leave the church.

These are folks that our institutions have invested time, money and hope over a three to four year period. We have encouraged them to follow a discernment process towards a vocation that may or may not be able to embrace them. Our system is broken.

The brokenness of our church institutions and the slow moving process towards change has disabled our efforts to be the pioneering voice we once were. We exist primarily for ourselves. If your operating budget exceeds your mission budget you are inward focused. Jesus calls us to go out in to the world and make Disciples.

Have we abandoned this work? I hear "I love your ideas but we don't have any money." as much as I hear "We need to do something." What are we going to do? The angry, punker inside me demands more for this community I have aligned myself with.

You promised to walk with me in community and support when I took my vows of ordination. When I was baptized you as the church promised to raise me in the ways of Christ. I am weary of the inward focus. Who will stand up and be evangelized by the Millennials? Who will answer the call to receive the missionaries from Gen X?

There is a better way to be "church" in this world. The brick and mortar spaces we lovingly tend to may be hedging us in. How do we liberate ourselves from yesterday that we may die and be born again for tomorrow?

Who will join the party? Our parents are out of town and there is a raging party set to go off! Who is going to be there? All are invited. All are welcome. You just have to show up, be willing to rage and clean up afterwards.

Over time a person’s faith can begin to grow cold. One’s sense of calling can diminish as well. The difficulties of life and ministry can become overwhelming, and maybe you’d just as soon give up. Perhaps, the context of life has become challenging and you wonder what will come of one’s future. It is in the midst of this sense of doubt and questioning of one’s purpose in life, that we hear two words of encouragement – one stands as a call to “rekindle the calling” and the other suggests that if only we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can replant a mulberry tree in the sea. Luke’s rendition might not suggest casting mountains into the sea, but maybe planting trees in seas is sufficient for the day. But we need to remember the context, the situation we find ourselves in.

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Acting your way into a new way of thinking.

This summer a visiting pastor made a remark in his sermon that has stayed with me.  He said it was easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it was to think your way into a new way of acting.  As part of a church that seeks to be missional and followers of Jesus, this hit me hard.  Praying to be good servants, praying for compassion, praying for ministries t hat really serve is thinking your way into acting.  And I've done it far too long. Acting my way into a new way of thinking is going to be a greater challenge.  If you act, you risk failure.  Or perhaps even scarier, you risk success!  Then what?  I am a Licensed Professional Minister and the Adult Ed. liaison at an intentional home church in the DOC tradition.  We are doing a study on racism, which has been interesting in a room full of white people.  But at some point, study has to stop and we have to take on action.  What are we going to do in response to what we have learned?

The most important thing, or one of them, I believe, is to be aware of our white privilege as we choose and carry out actions.   What actions we take could have a million forms, but if we are not aware of our privilege and how that shapes what we are doing, our actions risk harming, not assisting in liberation.

I am the quotation queen and I have another one to go with this post and topic.

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come here because your liberation is wrapped up in mine, let us work together." (Lilla Watson)

As a traditionally white church (which is changing on a national level) we must be aware that our liberation IS wrapped up in the liberation of others.  And we can study, be aware, and pray all we want, but until we begin to act our way into a new way of thinking, the old way will remain.

I can't wait to see what actions come out of our study.  This church has existed for more than fifteen years and has taken several prophetic stances and has always backed them up with direct action.  This is an exciting time for me.  This is an exciting time for the church, my little local one and the larger church...we get to act our way into a new way of thinking, aware that our liberation is tied up in that of others.  Let's go and do it!

By Sherril Morris

The Wages of Sin

It has been said that AA and 12-step recovery programs are the biggest development in western spirituality since the Protestant Reformation. Luther rejected the Pope; 12-steppers rejected religion in all its trappings, including the priesthood. It's truly a priesthood of believers in a Higher Power that goes unlabeled, peer-to-peer ministry, sinner-to-sinner therapy. If you want to talk spirituality with Boomers and X-ers, you'll find common ground with more people quoting the Big Book than quoting scripture.

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Disciples Don't Have Bishops. We Have Bloggers!

“Disciples don't have bishops. We have editors.” So it has been said of us throughout the more than two centuries of our journey to faithfully follow in the way of Jesus, the Christ. While recognizing the need for structural leadership in the church, Disciples have always been more focused on the ability of words to inspire, challenge, educate, and equip those who bear the name of Christ than in the power of bureaucratic structures to affect change in this world.

When Alexander Campbell began The Christian Baptist in the early 19th century, it was a small, monthly print publication that enjoyed a limited circulation on what was then the Western American frontier. Gradually, though, Campbell's writing gained a wider audience as the Disciple plea for unity and simplicity through a return to the traditions of the early church grabbed the attention of a religiously weary populace. Campbell soon changed the name of the publication to The Millennial Harbinger to reflect his belief in the Church's progress toward reclaiming its unity and furthering its mission. Barton W. Stone, Campbell's colleague in the struggle for unity and simplicity, also published a monthly journal, The Christian Messenger, offer his unique perspective along with Campbell's to the emerging movement that would become the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Throughout the 19th century, Campbell's words and those of their successors at The Christian Evangelist, The Christian Standard, and The Christian Oracle (now The Christian Century) challenged and inspired Disciples in their journey of faith. By the mid 20th century, The Christian Evangelist had dropped Evangelist from its banner and had become the central voice for Disciples. As the process of restructuring the congregations, ministries, and institutions of the Disciples into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) progressed, it was championed by those who edited The Christian, which soon became known as The Disciple, the official organ of the newly restructured denomination.

Members of our tradition have long valued an educated clergy and laity, encouraging a parity between those in the pews and those lead us in our common life together. Central to this parity has been the idea that dialog, both in person and in print, is key to bridging the gap between ministers and those with whom they serve. Disciples have had a long history of supporting print publications through subscriptions, advertising, and dedicated readership, but as times have changed, so too have Disciples.

Rumblings of trouble began at The Disciple in the early 1990s, and though several attempts at redesign, refocusing, and reducing costs were made, the publication folded in 2001. The demise of The Disciple left a hole in the church's communication system, one that the Office of Communication at the General Offices in Indianapolis tried to fill in the spring of 2001 with Disciple Digest, a monthly web publication. Disciple Digest, while a gallant effort, received a tepid response at best from a church often suspicious of all things emerging from its General Offices. Disciples value the free and honest exchange of information and ideas. We have little patience for “official” publications, even when offered with all due respect and good intentions. Such reticence led Jack Suggs and Robert Friedly, former publisher and editor of The Disciple magazine to create a non-profit corporation and invest a great deal of their own money in trying to revive publishing among Disciples in late 2001. DisciplesWorld magazine was born out of their endeavors, and while struggling in its first months of existence, the journal came to be regarded as one of the best religious journals in the United States. During it's eight year run, DisciplesWorld inspired, informed, challenged, educated, and entertained the denomination, and while expending a significant amount of energy and resources, the changing times and economy finally sealed the publication's end in late 2009. DisciplesWorld wasn't alone, though, in its final months, as hundreds of print publications either ceased to exist or became Internet only publications, among them United Church News, the official voice of our sister denomination, the United Church of Christ.

The world of publishing has changed considerably, but the need for conversation and dialog about the tough issues of the Christian faith has only increased. The time for print publications may have passed, but the need to keep those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) connected and informed has become all the more important. Ignorance and isolation abound in our church and if we are to fulfill our mission of being a church that embodies true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice, we must be connected to one another and share our insights as we struggle in our attempts to be faithful to the Gospel of the One who has claimed our lives in the waters of baptism and who nourishes us for the journey of faith at the table of Christ.

Blogs (short for web logs) became popular at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly among youth and young adults who sought ways of sharing their thoughts in more dynamic ways with family, friends, and the larger world. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, blogs have become as widely read as print publications, challenging long running print publications to move toward publication in blog form. While DisciplesWorld made a worthy effort to transition to an online publication, circumstances prevented the move, leaving a void for others to fill. It is with deep respect and tremendous gratitude to those who have gone before us that we offer D[mergent] as one attempt to further build community and continue the conversation among those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Perhaps, as we move into the future that God is creating in, among, and through us, we will be able to say, “Disciples don't have bishops. We have bloggers.”

--The Rev. Wes Jamison, B.A., M.Div., Minister-at-Large for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, Chair of the GLAD O&A Ministries Team, Qualified Mental Health Professional, and Contributing Editor for [D]mergent