Playing “Hokey Pokey” with the Gospel

Playing “Hokey Pokey” with the Gospel June 10, 2015


By Michael Coyner

My E-pistle entitled “Mission Indiana”  stirred up a lot of response. Most of it was positive, but some wrote to ask what I meant by challenging our congregations and pastors to be “all-in” for our mission? The best way I can answer that question is by reflecting upon the children’s game “Hokey-Pokey.” Remember how it works? You start by singing, “You put your right hand in, you pull your right hand out, then you shake it all about, you do Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around, and that’s what it’s all about” (or something like that). Each verse invites you to put a different part of yourself into the circle, until the final verse says, “You put your whole self in, your pull your whole self out, your put your whole self in….”

I believe that most of us play the Hokey-Pokey game with the Gospel. We put part of ourselves “in” and we keep pulling that part of ourselves out, until we finally hear the call of the Gospel to turn ourselves around and to put our whole self in. Most of us (and I am confessing for myself), only follow Jesus partially. We put some of our trust in the Lord. We follow Jesus some of the time. We believe and have faith on our good days. We hear the demands of the Gospel to “turn ourselves around” (which is what the word “repent” literally means – to turn around) but we only do so reluctantly. We are only partial in our obedience, we are only part-time in our Christian walk, and it is tough us to put our whole self in.

For example, I met a man recently who told me he is an active member of his United Methodist congregation (people seem to want to tell me they are active church members once they hear that I am the UM Bishop for Indiana). He went on to say, “I go to church almost every Christmas and Easter.” He actually seemed proud of that level of involvement.

We play Hokey-Pokey with the Bible, too. It is obvious in the ways we use Scripture – grabbing hold of those verses of the Bible which reinforce on our viewpoints, but ignoring the broad sweep and deep demands of the Bible. Liberals quote those verses which support a progressive, gracious, open view of some issues. Conservatives quote those verses which are more legalistic. Everyone turns to their favorite verses which support and don’t challenge their own lifestyle, theology or just plain prejudice. We play Hokey-Pokey with the Gospel.

What can help us to overcome our partial piecemeal discipleship? What can help us to overcome our own prejudices and imperfect faith?

The answer from 2,000 years of Christian history is simply this: be a part of a small group of Christians who are seeking after the fullness of faith. Christian community, honest reflection and feedback, and a deepening prayer life – those are the historic ways that Christians have learned to “put their whole self” into the Gospel. On our own we tend to be partial in our discipleship. Together we can hold each other accountable and grow in faith.

So, don’t play Hokey-Pokey with the Gospel. Be “all in” for our Lord, for the church which Christ loves, and for our mission. Move from being a part-time follower of Christ to being one who follows completely.

Coyner is bishop of the Indiana area of the United Methodist Church. This column originally appeared at Indiana United Methodists.

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