“So we cancelled it all…”

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(HT: RM)

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://yliapu.typepad.com/spiritualregurgitations/ Robin Dugall

    Amazingly refreshing to listen to…eventually consumer-driven, attractionally based, smorgasborg strategizing, program based ministry falls…the “come to us” fails to equip and release disciples…brave leader coming clean

  • Michael D. Bobo

    This is a beautiful example of a church leader who gets it. She’s ready to lead. Thanks Scot for sharing.

  • http://regeneratex.wordpress.com missional girl

    Thanks for posting, Scot. Who is the leader in the video and what is the name of her church?

  • http://regeneratex.wordpress.com missional girl

    Nevermind. I should have waited until I saw the ENTIRE video. Thanks again for posting this.

  • http://www.normmacdonald.wordpress.com Norm

    This reminded me of a phrase I once read: You manage things/programs – you lead people. Too often what we think people “need” is not what people “want.”

  • RJS

    What do you people hear in this video that I don’t?

    What I hear is “No one cares about Jesus any more. No one has time. I give up. So we’re going to send them out to feed the poor and hope they (the people we send not the poor) find Jesus.”

    But maybe I am missing something.

    Reminds me of this post from Fleming Rutledge’s Ruminations.

  • kevinleroy

    I think it’s great that she wants to reach people. However, I think it’s a failure in the model. She mentions in the video, “…I’m involved in years of putting on programs that people don’t want?” The world is a different place than it was 20+ years ago. Go be the Church instead of wanting people to come TO Church. By BEING the Church, I believe, more people will eventually come TO Church.

  • http://www.chuckroberts.blogspot.com/ Chuck Roberts

    RJS, I heard that too. I just finished it so I’m still sorting through my thoughts about it . . . so what I say next may not be my final thinking on the subject. But I do have to say that I’m troubled that there does seem to be a contingent of people in the church who are into going out and doing service projects, tangible acts of love, but really aren’t interested in learning about Jesus. On the other hand, I spent years in church “learning about Jesus” and I didn’t do much to actually demonstrate that love in the community. It seems to me that there’s always error and then a course correction that over-corrects, and I hope there’s some middle ground where both can happen (action first and then contemplation, as Richard Rohr puts it).

  • RJS

    Chuck,

    We need to do as well – no question at all. Projects that “do” are essential. But it kind of reminds me of Scot’s controversial claim that there is no kingdom work outside the church because it has to be for the king.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    @RJS, that was the message I heard at the end. Is this perhaps how church leadership perceive their roles? As the gatekeepers to the knowledge of the reality of Christ?

    I’ve found it can take some time to convince people that the experience of Christ happens every moment, in any place, and that the spirit can teach us even unconsciously.

  • Mark

    Man, you really feel her anguish huh? Sounds to me like this lady is incredibly lonely. She’s taken all the responsibility for the success or failure of St Mary’s on her own shoulders. For whatever reason she has seen only failure in herself, her programs, and in her congregation.

    I don’t know what the actual solution is, but I don’t want her to give up.

  • http://tuckersdoppelganger.blogspot.com/ Rob

    You had me at “potluck.”

  • Kenny Johnson

    @RJS,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one. It seems she threw the baby out with the bathwater. I also wonder how true it is. Certainly there are some people who you are never going to get to come to a small group or a mid-week service or anything else. But really — was no one coming? Most churches I’ve been part of have had fairly successful small group ministries. The one I’m part of now even does a “theology lounge” during the summer. Granted, only about 10-15% of the congregation showed up for it, but I still think that’s significant.

    I’m not sure why you can’t have both. Service and small groups. Our church partners with another church and we do homeless dinners about once a month. Every year we are also part of a multi-church ministry that cleans and renovates things around the city (cleaning and painting schools, etc). But small groups are also a part of our community.

  • BJ

    I’m frightened by some of the comments and their implication that if a minister thinks bible classes and “leisurely” (to use her word) conversations about Jesus are important than they just don’t get it as a minister. Yes, the world is changing, and yes, this priest finds herself caught in the middle of that transition, but if we think we can know Jesus by just getting out there to “serve,” we’re forgetting that Jesus trained his disciples for years before they went out to do just that. Granted, a good chunk of their training was service, but my point is that to be fully shaped into the image of Jesus, we need both. Jesus told us to love God with our minds as well.

    Also, she did not say that her congregation was doing away with adult education so they could do outreach. She said her congregation already had outreach, and her hope was that by letting her members focus on what they wanted to do, it would bring them to the realization that they need to learn more about Jesus.

    As a minister myself, I resonate with both her frustration and her hope. My prayer is that Jesus is patient with his Church as we all wrestle with how to witness to his kingship in a fallen world continuously in flux.

  • Matt Edwards

    I appreciate the honesty of this woman. I hope someone gives her a hug and tells her she’s doing a good job.

    Community-building and Christian education in this age are tough! There is a difficult balance between giving people what they want and giving them what they need. She is asking the right questions, though!

  • Tom Howard

    Well, I certainly hear all of the above…..I wonder though before we are too tough on her…..the video was part of a project and I have no idea what slant they wanted in the message-I am sure there was some direction. But I have seen this trend in one church that I have long been involved in.

  • Amos Paul

    @9 RJS,

    And that is exactly the point at which I, personally, step off from TKJG conclusions ;).

    “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” – 1 Cor 4:20

    I think the Kingdom of God is breaking in through every avenue of good happening in the world–and not just where we accompany it with teaching about Jesus ourselves. But, yes, if we want to invite the Kingdom (dominion of the King) into our lives more–we should, indeed, strive for balance of inviting it into both our actions *and* minds!

  • http://logicandimagination.wordpress.com Melody H Hanson (@melodyhhanson)

    Sad commentary of the state of things. Beyond the obvious that people are too busy at soccer games and chorus concerts for kids, all I know is that if people are growing more in love with Jesus they will want to know more about what the Bible teaches. Perhaps they don’t do it at a church potluck/study anymore but they will do it. Perhaps she needs to find out how they are learning/want to learn. I dunno, don’t they teach this stuff in seminary?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    The people who would *go* to the church are the same people who would *go* to events that *do*. Its not like we all live in the same neighborhood where we have no TV, internet and other distractions. Those that are going to do, want to do.

    So, objectively (as possible), this strikes me as a failure to bring the product to the consumer (I share the distaste for thinking about our religion in those terms, but it fits). The learning about Jesus part has to happen where people want to learn. Today that is likely at home in most cases. Or in the course of their doing something else.

    This is quite a difficult problem

  • Batreader

    We run a Bible study every Thursday night in our house – numbers always drop off in cold weather and then pick up again in the Spring. It’s just a case of not feeling stressed out about it . . . and not feeling that it’s all down to us.

  • DRL

    Or maybe nothing has changed and church has always been about a remnant, a mustard seed kingdom? Maybe it’s not and has never been meant to be about programs? Why do we hold on to such things?

  • James

    Jesus came to serve, not to be served. So a disciple *is* going to be out serving.

    However, there were also times when Jesus said the most important thing at the moment was to dive into the Word, such as his conversation with Mary at Bethany. “But Mary has chosen that which is greater.”

    It’s not either/or when it comes to service and study. It’s both/and. At least that’s how Jesus actually lived it, and he’s our model, is he not?

    (I’ve been where where she is, and it’s tough. A couple of things that really struck me then were, we need to make sure in the hectic nature of modern life that we are part of the solution to all the business, not part of the problem; less really is more; teach *as* you serve, don’t teach *or* serve; and I banned the word “program”. Sometimes it’s not just semantics, it’s a mindset, and I don’t do “programs” because life becomes about sustaining them, not the people in them, or the people they serve.

  • Chris White

    What was most telling to me is that her people are involved and she seems not to be. I tend to be the one who wants to instill knowledge without the ground work of rubbing elbows with other believers serving. It doesn’t work. What if she stopped the formal teaching and got involved in the service projects and found out the questions and the tensions of what her people face–then she could share from the Word what it teaches about how to deal with such questions and tensions. A hands-on approach rather than a seminary-(maybe ivory tower) academic approach. I do appreciate her forthrightness. may God’s grace guide her decisions.

  • Tom

    Maybe this is more a commentary on our society than the state of the Church. People are working very hard to make ends meet, and both people need to work today to support a stable home. There is no time to be at church three days a week anymore. I think that throughout the industrial era, this has been a difficult issue. Wesley spoke of it in trying to reach factory workers in England. What we do as a society changes our churches. I think that you will find that Bible studies do well in wealthy communities with women who stay at home but not many other places.

  • C

    Wow…love the honesty. I’ve been in churches like this–program after program. This program doesn’t work so let’s invent another one. Exhausting. Could we all just agree to stop for a season? A sabbath? Can we just…be…for a little while?

  • Kenton

    I come from a tradition that specializes in bible study. Our bible studies are still well attended.

    And yet, strangely I find myself jealous of this church that is canceling bible study. They’re actually going out and doing the things Jesus calls us to.

  • http://www.dry-bones-valley.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    I can think of several reasons why a church could come to this place . . . and none of them are good. The New Testament places a great emphasis on understanding what we believe, and I’m loathe to give her congregation a pass on that. The best teaching doesn’t come on the fly–if that were so, then there’d be no need for colleges or vocational schools; we’d just go to work and pick up things as we go along. You know, in those “teachable moments.” If we want to really know something, then somewhere along the way we need to devote ourselves to studying and learning and investigating it. That is an intensive, and deliberate, process and there is no substitute for it.

  • Winky

    I enjoyed that.

    The thing that came to mind toward the end was the phrase: “bring the body and the mind will follow.” Perhaps she and her church are being guided to action – not study, teaching, prayer or conversation – but action.

    Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.KetchPublishing.com Allen Ketchersid

    The flake-out effect is not limited to programs with the objective of teaching and discipling. Evangelistic and service-oriented programs rise and fall too. No matter what the ministry objective or style, the percentages of people who stick with it rain or shine, consistently over the long haul, are surely similar. If you want to avoid the baggage now attached to the term “program,” fine, call what you do something by a fresh and cool new term, but the new approach will simply replicate her attempts at re-packaging and will not be the final answer to he age-old, leader-frustrating phenomenon. This is the challenge of leading/serving.

  • Susan N.

    Matt (#15) – I felt as you did when I heard, “I feel like a failure.” That is a painful confession. My heart is softened toward this pastor, whatever her faults may be in contributing to the problem.

    Do we condemn her in response and confirm what a “loser” she is? Nice. Not! I would hope that a few compassionate souls in her congregation upon hearing this message would at least come to comfort her and ask how they might minister to *her* with encouraging words and deeds.

    Tom (#24) – I think that you have raised a valid point, too. Time is a luxury of the “haves.” The “have nots” are pretty busy securing their basic needs right about now, I would imagine. And by basic needs I mean physical survival.

    Re: programs for the sake of attracting by entertaining people. I think that programs aimed at this end by these means will always fall flat of real community-building. It is an enticing “bait” that initially looks good, but imho spiritually-hungry people crave relationship — with God and with others. Programs that don’t provide a place to be in authentic, edifying fellowship get old fast. What’s more, I think once people think about it, the entire premise is kind of insulting? Like having been used, manipulated. Ick. That’s what the world does. I’m not saying that is how this pastor/priest’s programs were designed or perceived, but it’s something to think carefully about.

    Also, in all those Bible studies, I wonder if questions and dialogue were welcomed? One of the reasons I like blogs such as Jesus Creed is that there is an interchange of ideas and often lengthy discussion on a given topic. Churches with Bible study “programs” that merely transmit information without allowing for questions, dialogue, even disagreement don’t really allow for the growing pains and interpersonal honesty required for transformation. Imho.

    I think it is a fine decision for this pastor to cancel all the programs. At least temporarily, in order to reassess the situation and determine where to go next. Giving up would be resigning her position altogether. If I were her (and I’m not a pastor, just a regular “jane” in the pews), I would pray like my life and the life of the church depended on it, with open hands, willing to let go of “the way it’s always been done” and do whatever God might be leading me to do instead.

    Lastly, I questioned the statement that “nobody came/comes.” Literally no single person showed up for the Bible studies and fellowship meals? Or were the numbers just few? Pastors and churches nowadays seem compelled to attract and sustain big numbers…mega everything. But, sometimes God does big things even in a few inconspicuous places and through small numbers of people. *Could* the people of this church actually encounter Jesus outside the church walls? I certainly believe that this can and does occur. Maybe the pastor just needs to clearly connect the desire to heal and help with the heart of Christ and the Gospel? The impulse for justice *is* Christlike. Healing was a part of Jesus’ ministry. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater in poo-pooing the congregations good impulse to be out doing. Just my opinion.

  • Earl Glass

    I hope that she has gone to GOD in prayer over this. I hope that she has asked her congregation what they think. A sort of interactive sermon. I hope too she would not give up. Jesus(Yeshua) would go to them–where they are–if in a tree,then climb the tree, if in their homes, then go to their homes,as a group or one on one. Ask and you shall receive, speak and they will listen. He(or she) who has eyes let them see and ears,let them hear…In Jesus name, Amen!

  • Mark

    While I can empathize with her feelings of failure – it sounds like she (and probably her staff as well) has created her own standard for success. Too often we gauge success on numbers instead of the direction of the Holy Spirit. If one is called to teach, then TEACH. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a classroom of 100, a small group in a home of 3, or simply writing a blog that you’re not even sure anyone is reading. For those of us that have been called – are we so important and our time so valuable that teaching just one person isn’t worth our time?

    I do appreciate the honesty – but I’d encourage her to express the frustration – while continuing her calling (assuming the Spirit wants her to continue).

    Success isn’t always about numbers.

  • John Inglis

    Eh? Narrow is the way and few are they that find it. So why are we surprised if only 15% of the church gets into small groups and theology learning and direct outreach programs? Or that 1/3 of young people don’t return?

    A problem with both the approach she rejecting and the reasons she is rejecting it lie in our western belief that we can design things / activities / etc. so that people will be stongly or irresistably influenced a certain way. Then we are disappointed that our numerical or other quantifiable goals are not met.

    I see this all the time in my profession (development) where people believe that certain types of public planning, or structures, or architecture will result in certain types of behaviors in people.

    Geez. It’s not like when we get to heaven God, the cosmic accountan,t checks to see if we met our quarterly targets.

    John

  • Jeff

    I blame seminary professors. People are called by God to be about his Kingdom. Then they go not into the world but into school where their call is “verified” and often remolded to fit the denominations mold.

    Learning about the bible is great but we come to know Jesus best by encountering him in the world. The scriptures say that when we are in mission, we, are the ones who are healed. No one can point to a mission project that has changed the world. But how often has an individual been changed by being in mission?

  • Phil Miller

    I have to confess that I’m a bit puzzled with the comments that seem to passing judgment on this woman in one way or another. And we wonder why pastors have an astronomically high burnout rate? Even in coming to a place where she’s ready to admit defeat, she can’t even find mercy… It’s just sad, really.

    We make people run and run and run until they can run no more. Then we kick them while they’re down. Yay Christians!

  • Susan N.

    “No one can point to a mission project that has changed the world. But how often has an individual been changed by being in mission?”

    Jeff (#34) – I can’t agree with you more. You nailed it.

    Encountering Jesus involves not only the head and heart, but maybe is best experienced in hands-on, humble service.

  • MatthewS

    wow, I find myself being very drawn to her vulnerability. I do admit I feel some ambivalence about some of the messages I think I might be hearing.

    Her comment that perhaps her church is just a special little enclave of failure… hoo boy I can relate to that feeling and fear, and I’ll bet many others in pastoral leadership can as well.

    These things always get me back to thinking about how Jesus dug in with 12 men plus a group of female followers for a long-term investment. I hate to admit this sort of thinking, but perhaps it’s hard for some of us to think that our years of paying the cost of seminary is well rewarded by putting effort into 1 to 2 dozen folks, but maybe in the end a minister who can point to such a group and know that they have been discipled/mentored/loved/nurtured… maybe that’s closer to what we should have been expecting all along. I don’t mean to imply anything negative about anyone else in this last paragraph, just being introspective.

  • Mark

    “Encountering Jesus involves not only the head and heart, but maybe is best experienced in hands-on, humble service.”

    Why is there necessarily a “best” way? It seems to me that the Spirit knows what’s best for each of us individually.

    We are each members of the body of Christ. There isn’t one perfect job for all parts of the body. Each part has it’s own job. The foot doesn’t say “No one appreciates me, I should do what the thumb does.” Each part plays it’s role.

  • Richard

    yeah, if they studied their bible more then they would know that this woman can’t be a priest… /sarcasm

    “The Christian Education program is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

    “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever thinks and talks about God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”

    We had 50% of our congregation order 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed and we’re not doing anything with it in our Christian Ed or pulpit time; and yet, I’m pretty convinced that the ones that want to discuss it will discuss it and the ones that want to act on it will act on it – and I don’t have to be the facilitator for those things. I encourage friends and families to do that on their own.

    Humans learn (beyond low level memorization) by doing something with the material. Most Christian ed material I have seen and reviewed backs up the truck, dumps the content and neatly resolves the challenges in a palatable way so people can sleep well that night. The Gospel causes sleepless nights because it disrupts our current way of life. That disruption (aka cognitive dissonance) is what can motivate life change, if we don’t explain away the tension in our small groups…

    All that in sum boils down to empathizing with this priest and instead of cursing people for not coming because they’re priorities are wrong (you know like time with their family and sabbath and supporting their kids in activities instead of showing up to this Bible Study I used their money to buy), I want to ask myself how I can meet them at the boats and bring Jesus with me so they can learn to walk with Jesus in the workplace and home.

  • Susan N.

    Mark (#38) – “Why is there necessarily a “best” way? It seems to me that the Spirit knows what’s best for each of us individually.”

    Because, Mark, if all our studying of the scriptures does not ultimately lead to a change of heart which manifests in actually loving others through humble service, then to what end is all that “sacrifice” to the gods of knowledge?

    I don’t accept that only *some* of us are called to humble, compassionate service, even if not especially to “the least of these” who may be inside or outside of the church walls. How credible is our word if the action does not follow?

    Jesus discipled by walking the talk *among* his followers and toward those whom he wanted to reach. I cannot accept that only some of us are called to *embody* Christ to the world in this way.

    Further, I was thinking that in the “Acts of the Holy Spirit”, the apostles weren’t sitting around doing Bible study or other programs. They went “out.” They imitated Jesus in preaching the Good News, but also in healing, restorative acts. Then they came back together to discuss and pray about what had occurred and how to understand the meaning of God’s Spirit moving, so that they would know what to do next. Perhaps if there is a take-away from that in designing “programs” it should be to come together to testify to what God is doing “out there”, to pray for guidance as to the next move, and to encourage one another.

  • Shopharim

    Interestingly enough, what is described in this video is the discipleship model Jesus himself used. He got people engaged in serving, and taught them along the way. For example, these guys are casting out demons and healing folks, while at the same time arguing over who wuld be the greatest.

    In fact, even as he was wrapping up his earthly campaign, he advised Peter, ‘after you are converted, feed my sheep.’ This suggests (at least to me) that when Jesus ascended, the transformation of the leaders of the faith was not yet complete.

    A few days later, the transformation was complete, and that same group of people literally transformed the city of Jerusalem in a day. And, the effects of that continue to this day.

    I am not saying there is no need for fellowship and focused teaching. But, the essence of the kingdom is love…love, first and foremost, for God; love for one another; and love for the least of them.

    I’m encouraged by this development.

  • Mark

    Thanks Susan – I appreciate the thoughtful response.

    “Because, Mark, if all our studying of the scriptures does not ultimately lead to a change of heart which manifests in actually loving others through humble service, then to what end is all that “sacrifice” to the gods of knowledge?”

    Agreed! James 2:14-18 speaks of this!

    “I don’t accept that only *some* of us are called to humble, compassionate service, even if not especially to “the least of these” who may be inside or outside of the church walls. How credible is our word if the action does not follow?”

    Again, agreed. We are all called to compassionate service (whether it’s across the globe, or those in our local church with needs).

    But the assertion was made that “experiencing Jesus” is best done through hands-on humble service. And stepping back a bit – I will actually agree with that statement. However, what’s the definition of “hands-on humble service”?

    To one it could be the Spirit’s urging to volunteer in a soup kitchen. To another, it could be the Spirit’s calling to teach a Bible class. There is somehow this notion that the pastor in the video was “teaching not serving”. Well teaching and learning solely for knowledge sake or for fame is empty. (and I don’t know the pastors motivation – but I have no reason to believe it wasn’t pure) But teaching to equip people for honest service? That’s Biblical.

    You assert that the apostles weren’t sitting around doing scripture study…um…who knows what they were doing in their free time? That’s pure speculation. We do, however have this from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: (emphasis mine)

    “It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, *to prepare God’s people for works of service*, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
    Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, *as each part does its work*. (Eph 4:11-16 NIV)

    Again. We each have parts to play. Who’s to say the thumb experiences Jesus “better” than the foot?

  • TJJ

    Sad video. Hard to watch in a way. Several posts ask or state that this is a reflection of our society today and people don’t want to come to hear teaching, smalll groups, etc.

    I don’t really think so.

    I am a member/Ministry leader of a large church (10K+) and our church had over 4K people involved in classes, small groups, large groups just this past week. That is typical.

    Also, I visit and particpate in a church plant that is still small (100 avg, different denomination), and they had a Ash Wednesday service (does not usually have anything on Wednesday nights) last night and there were over 150 for a prayer, litergy, homily, and receiving ashes, and they have small groups with over 50 people in those groups, more than half the average attendance.

    I can’t really say from the video what the issues are in that congregation, but I have some suspicions, which I will keep to my self, since I don’t really know, but I think a skilled chhurch consultant could really help this congretion if the leadership is open and receptive.

    I don’t agree that is the “new normal”, or even all that “normal” at all. IMHO

  • http://www.lakevalleychurch.com Morgan Golden

    Of course she isn’t ALONE in this. I believe it is because the “reductionalistic” rational approach to Christian Ed has run its course. Our church “cancelled it all” a long time ago but we are discipling now more than ever through experiences and training for mission. We don’t want to do “service” just for “service’s sake” but service for the sake of Kingdom expansion. We have put a full court press on training by coupling ortho-praxy with ortho-doxy (right actions with right beliefs). We are in a new era, but don’t lose hope, I believe this may be the gateway to a generational revival. You might read the book, “Desiring the Kingdom” by James K. Smith . He does a great job of unpacking this topic. Be Encouraged, our God is not dead: He’s alive and not surprised.

    Morgan Golden, Teaching Pastor
    Lake Valley Community Church

  • TJJ

    Well, I went to this church’s web site. If you look around a bit, especially if you click the “worship” tab and then the “what if” tab, well, things become a little clearer about this congregation. I better understand the “issues” here.

  • Susan N.

    Mark (#42) – thanks for seeking to find common ground in our discussion. I appreciate this dialogue.

    At any given time in a church “body”, certainly there will be individuals at varying levels of spiritual development from seeker on up to mature, seasoned Christ-follower. So, in the sense that it is unrealistic to expect everyone to be at the same level of knowledge or faith-in-action, I am completely in agreement with you.

    I also agree wholeheartedly that one person’s calling might be to start a Bible fellowship at a nursing home ;-) while another’s might be to international adoption or volunteering to tutor/mentor at the local elementary school. Or even making quilts for the homeless shelter. (I remember Dorcas, and how she was commended by the apostles for her quiet, simple service!)

    Here is where I think I would continue to push back: “teaching people to equip them for service is biblical” — Teaching and being “literate” about the Bible, I’m all for. But is that the only way that one is equipped for effective service? And, more to the point, *when* is the student qualified, and who gets to say they now know *enough* to practice their faith by going out on mission to serve?

    I am wondering the longer I think about it if, in this episcopal priest’s sense of failure and defeat, God isn’t trying to open her eyes to the way His Spirit is moving through her congregation? If that is what the people *desire* to do, how can the pastor/priest meet them where they are and teach them from that place? In the “Acts of the Holy Spirit,” when doors closed and/or the heat was on (pressure of persecution), the apostles tended to get moving again.

    In my nursing home Bible fellowship, from the beginning, the desire (hello, Jeff Cook, re: yesterday’s post!) to serve was far stronger than any sense of being adequate in knowledge or experienced enough to the task. The “experience” of stepping out in faith, learning to serve by caring for the needs of others is not optional in spiritual formation. I love the Bible and never get tired of learning from it. But I have learned SO much more, and my faith has grown exponentially through the mission of serving.

    I wouldn’t minimize the beauty and worth of God’s (written) Word. I just wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that God might be working in the hearts of the congregation and those whom they are “witnessing” from a different angle. If the people are bearing fruit that resembles Christ, can we admit that He might have something to do with it? Centered set, inclusive model or Bounded, exclusive model? I like the first option best.

    What do you think, Mark?

  • Mark

    Hello Susan,
    I think first I’d like to state that when I say “teaching” I don’t necessarily mean to restrict that to biblical literacy. It’s merely passing knowledge of something on to others.

    “But is that the only way that one is equipped for effective service? And, more to the point, *when* is the student qualified, and who gets to say they now know *enough* to practice their faith by going out on mission to serve?”

    No, of course not. And I don’t mean to suggest that someone has to be formally taught first, then serve afterwards. I merely submitted the Ephesians reference to combat any idea that teaching is not important at all.

    And to answer the question of “when is someone ready?” – well that’s up to Spirit, community, and individual. I think when an individual openly consults Spirit and community, then they are in the best position to determine when they are ready. And you’re so correct – someone may be moved to serve even when they think they might not be equipped…if the Spirit moves you, then you’re doing the right thing! I really liked how you mentioned “stepping out in faith” – that really resonates with me.

    But I feel like I might be coming off as cheering for knowledge vs faith deeds, when that’s not where I’m coming from. If the pastor’s complaint had been “Our classrooms are packed full, but I can’t get more than 3-4 people a week to serve in the community, so we’re cancelling all the service programs”…I would have answered exactly the same. Listen to the Spirit. Don’t gauge success on the world’s standard. The Kingdom tends to look at things different than the world.

    That’s really where I’m coming from. There is no one size fits all fix (or way to follow Jesus). I get very uncomfortable stating any given method is a better way to experience Christ than another. If we start saying feeding the homeless makes you closer to Christ than teaching sunday school, then where does it stop? Is feeding the homeless in one country better than another? It’s usually not a good idea to second guess the Spirit. If the Spirit tells you to feed 5 people in your community, are you closer to Him by going to a bigger town and feeding 100 people instead?

    I’ve enjoyed this discussion. But I’ll probably just leave it here with my basic stance, so to speak.

    Obey the Spirit. He decides what’s successful. I don’t.

    God Bless. May your nursing home ministry be fruitful as any other endeavors you undertake for the Kingdom in His name! :)

  • Dan Miller

    I appreciate the humility of this hurting leader. IMHO, she has reached a place that many need to reach. I read the very first comment (Robin) and was greatly encouraged. However I was a bit saddened by other comments until I read down to Jeff #34, and was again refreshed by this perspective. Engaging people in mission at the expense of programs is something we did a long time ago. It’s in the mission that the kingdom of God and earth collide. It’s when people are exposed to the Kingdom in that fashion, that a desire to grow deeper as a disciple is born. My goodness, isn’t that the way it worked in the book of Acts. If I can’t get people to come to a bible study, but I can get them involved in serving the mission, I am ok with that. I am confident that when people begin to love the people that Jesus loves and serve the people that Jesus would have served, they will be inclined to want to grow in their knowledge of Him. Our Worship should be the fruit of our mission, and our mission should be the fruit of our Worship. I think she gets it.

  • http://www.soulation.org Dale Fincher

    I thought she was going to say, “We cancelled our services so we can spend that time building relationships with our neighbors and be involved with others in community events.” But it didn’t go there.

    In general, I find services to be a large amount of energy for a small amount of fruit. General audience sermons tend to be washed over. Better to keep services to a limit and then find ways to be in the community sharing and teaching and having those “leisure” coffee shop conversations that end up turning so fruitful. People are still hungry out there for truth and love, and not just for opportunities to serve. Very hungry. Often their service is simply to fill the lack of direction and silence the anxiety. But they don’t find all that talking at church to be doing it for them either. And so the big question keeps returning: what difference does Jesus really make in our lives?

  • Susan N.

    Mark (#47) – May God bless you as well. You have been a most gracious conversation partner, and I will think on all that you’ve shared.

    To my (pleasant) surprise, I saw just now that Roger Olson has added a post titled ‘Thoughts on Renewalism’ that speaks to me on our dialogue about the work of the Holy Spirit.

    I see that Dan (#48) is on the same wavelength (reference to the Book of Acts!) The UMC symbol is the cross (Jesus Christ) and flame (Holy Spirit). When my family first visited our church, we were given the gift of a glass paperweight in the shape of a heart with these symbols outlined in raised form on top. This “icon” I keep on the family room coffee table where I see it often, to be reminded of my calling. :-)

  • NW

    Here are some excerpts from a couple of the categories under the “What if?” sub-tab under the “Worship” tab from this church’s website:

    “The Celtics write that there are two books…the book of creation, the book of scripture…and the former is the greater of the two….I live in that spirituality. I trust the book of creation more than the book of scripture….it’s pretty clear that the creator is in creation, and we humans are in our scripture…I just trust creation more…stories are nice, but being in creation is where it’s at.

    And in my spiritual world there is one Creator God, and many expressions of faith….and most of them not Christian….and it is wonderful. I never did feel comfortable with the one way routine….as Matthew Fox writes…one river, many wells. Tutu is right on when he writes: God is not a Christian…

    I am also not a big believer in atonement….I do believe that we humans tortured and killed the human person Jesus, and he rose from the dead….and I don’t understand….and it is ok that I don’t…I also know that Jesus-God-Wisdom is right here now, all around, and in me and above me and below me and beyond me, and the same for you as well. And, I still don’t understand….but I do believe…and do my best to live in the manner the Creator instructed, and Jesus demonstrate, and the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me of….” – Assigned Deacon Rev. Rex McKee for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

    “I don’t believe that Jesus is my Savior. I don’t believe that Jesus died for our sins, nor do I believe that Jesus is the one and only Son of God. I don’t believe that one needs to be baptized to be a “good Christian”. I don’t think the priests or the Bible have all the authority. I don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead (though I suppose I can’t really say he didn’t either), nor do I believe that Mary became pregnant except in the regular, human manner. These are some of my ‘crazy’ ideas.” – church member by the name of Nina

    It seems obvious to me that the reason why the rector for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church has a hard time getting people to learn about the Jesus revealed in Scripture is that her church members aren’t much interested in what Scripture has to say period.

  • TJJ

    NW #51 Exactly, or doctrine, or Creeds, 2K years of Church tradition,. When (christian???)faith becomes all things to all people, or whatever you want it to be, an very little or nothing to do with the Scripture, then it becomes not all that much to anyone. No wonder no one wants to take time out of their busy lives to talk about…what? Not much apparently. That would seem to be the big take away. No exactly a big surprise here.

  • Susan N.

    TJJ (#52) and NW (#51) – I found the church’s website and looked at the ‘What If’ questions that you both referenced. I take this to mean that those who ask “unorthodox” questions or hold those beliefs will not be excluded from church life. I took this to mean that they embrace people of all stages (or not) of faith. All manner of questions welcomed.

    “St. Mary’s Episcopal Church:
    A Christ-centered community with a mission to express God’s love for *all* people”

    I noted many women in leadership, and under the ‘Welcome’ tab, an “LGBT Friendly” sub-list.

    I wonder if this could be the “little or nothing to do with Scripture” that you mean?

    As far as Creation, the virgin birth, resurrection of Jesus, and other questions under the ‘What If’ section, these are all topics that have been discussed here on Jesus Creed at one time or another in the not-too-distant past. The comments always reflect a range of beliefs and views, as people wrestle with these matters.

  • NW

    Susan N,

    What else is there to conclude when the assigned Deacon for the church cannot affirm such a historic confession of Christian faith, well-attested in Scripture, as the atoning death of Christ? If a church leader is willing to part with Scripture on such a crucial point of Christian theology then I have to wonder of what use the laity of that church can possibly have for Scripture.

  • http://mymorningmeditations.com/ James

    I have sort of the opposite problem. I’m sure she and I would disagree about a good many things, but I would *love* to sit down with her (or someone) and talk about Jesus. I just can’t find a person or a place (face-to-face as opposed to online) where I’ll fit in. It’s not a matter of the details, but the honesty and passion this Priest has for what she’s doing and who she is as a person of faith is exactly what I’m looking for.

  • Susan N.

    James (#55) – I’m a “misfit” too! One who asks all the wrong questions, can’t accept many of the answers or write a blank check of trust to many of the ordained leaders. I reached a point of saying, “Enough!” And I won’t “perform” for anyone’s benefit anymore…

    I have found people finally (in face-to-face fellowship) who accept me and with whom I can speak openly and not be crucified or condemned for saying the “wrong” thing(s). This has been a blessing for which I am deeply grateful. I hear your longing and grief, and pray that you will be led to others with whom you can speak of your questions and doubts and be embraced, rather than excluded. If it’s any consolation, James, I tend to suspect that many (most?) people who hold to Scriptural truth and obedience to authority of ordained leaders and church tradition have all kinds of questions and doubts. If they allow their minds to “go there.” They just know better than to say them out loud.

    I can’t find it in my heart to condemn this priest for allowing such “unorthodox” questions to be asked openly, either. In fact, I think as you said, her heart for Christ *and* for others to experience His love, are obvious to me in her words and overall “tone” of humility and compassion. Thanks for your comment, James. ~Peace~

  • P.

    As I watched the video, I got the impression that this priest has a heart for God, but I couldn’t help but wonder if her church had gone soft on the basics of Christianity. What I mean by the basics is what is laid out in the Apostles Creed. Her situation reminds me of the fancy Methodist church I’m still a member of yet haven’t attended in several months. It used to be a great church in that it taught orthodox Christian beliefs, but in the last few years, it’s gone soft on these beliefs – and has gone stale. I’m now attending a large non-denominational church in Nashville that is strong on orthodoxy and encourages questions – and is very pro-female! It’s a vibrant church with strong participation in all areas. It all goes back to keeping Christ at the center.

  • TJJ

    The deacon/priest assigned to the congregation rejects atonement, basic theological temant, and that is not a private thought, it is posted on the churches’ website.

    It is vary sad. It is clear, that people are not only invited to come “as they are” theologically, but also they are affirmed to continue to believe whatever they want to, and even join the church and have a leadership role regardless of what they do or don’t believe, and knowing this, the denimination sent a “deacon” who is the same, an ala cart Christian.

    I have been to these churches. It is all believe as little or as much as you want, that is all OK. The church “affirms you” in whatever beliefs you have, or don’t have, or whatever, its all good and its all OK and the the beliefs of each person are just as valid as the next.

    It is very sad.

  • Jeffrey Gordon

    One qualification of leaders is that they have followers. Just because one follows the rules, obtains the education, receives the ordination, and fits into a place in an ecclesiastical organization of some sort, does not make him or her a real Christian leader. (That is not to say that large numbers of followers or some other worldly measure of “success” determines leadership, but that at least others respond by following that leader in whatever direction they are going).

    More than this, does the ECUSA (or “THE Episcopal Church” as they have now named themselves) itself really have any spiritual reality to offer anyone? Even if it’s strong on “social action”, there are plenty of options for that out there without the baggage (such as the doctrinal and ethical constraints found in the Bible) of Christ or His Church. On the other hand, if a group’s explicit historic faith in Christ has waned (or departed) while some vague man-centered, pluralistic social program has taken its place (as it generally has for that denomination), maybe it would be a good thing that few others join up. Pare down the schedule 100%.


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