Clergy get to go to some really cool events. Just a couple examples of the really cool events we get to attend are called Seminary and Continuing Education (aka Conferences, Workshops, Retreats, and so on). At these events we gather with other clergy-types who, like us, really love Jesus and the people we are shepherding in their journey of faith. We get to network and learn about things that are really working to build God’s reign of Shalom. We are generally encouraged to try those things. We also hear about stuff that’s clearly not working. Maybe something that used to work, but isn’t anymore. But, sometimes we find out about something that never really worked at all but everyone was kind of keeping quiet about. These things we are generally told to stop doing right away.
I suppose at this point it’s only fair to think about what I mean when I say something is working (or not). In the context of the United Methodist Church working means that we are moving toward fulfilling the mission of the church; Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. You may prefer the more compact, although almost certainly unpronounceable, acronym MDOJCFTTOTW. This mission has two significant parts (possibly four, but I am not going to that level detail here). The first is MDOJC. Sorry, Making disciples of Jesus Christ. This means simply that if you are in connection with First Church we will assume, in a very good-natured way, that you are curious about God, the Universe, and all the Big Questions. For United Methodists, Jesus summed things up pretty completely, so he is our lens. It is through this lens that we try to help people get at God, the Universe, and all the Big Questions. Now, I should be clear, you don’t have to be a disciple. All are truly welcome to search and seek. But, we are United Methodists and we are really most qualified to help you get from where you are to where you are trying to go by our witness to the one, Jesus of Nazareth, who taught us. As disciples we are really quite certain that Jesus really embodies best of all the outreaching love of God that changes lives and creates new possibilities through grace. So, MDOJC!
Alright. Then there’s FTTOTW. For the transformation of the world. We also assume, in a good-natured way, that your curiosity about God, the Universe, and the Big Questions is accompanied by a nagging sense that we (humankind) could do a better job of it (being humans, that is). We can confess, safely and without guile, that all signs indicate we need help if we are ever to really do a better job of it. Within our weakness lies a strength of conscience that causes us to yearn as one for peace, justice, safety, health, fairness, and all the things the Bible identifies as signs of the Shalom of God—a holistic, equitable, sustainable community.
Idealistic? Absolutely! But, so is democracy, art, baseball and even science. All the really good stuff is based on raising the bar to the Ideal instead of lowering it to the level of the Barely Endurable. The reason I believe this is that in Genesis—the story of humankind coming of age spiritually—God did not look at the natural world and say, This is Barely Endurable. God looks upon the animals, plants, the mountains, stars and moon, and galaxies, and even people and says with certainty, This is Good.
Taking God’s perspective with some seriousness, we want to do all that we can to move our families, community, nation and world closer to the Ideal of God’s vision; a vision of Shalom. A vision of a world that can be good. Thus, FTTOTW.
This then constitutes the guidelines for knowing when things “work” in the life of the church. Are disciples being made? In other words are people being welcomed, spiritually formed, and equipped for the call God has upon their lives? And, is the world better for it? In other words and simply, are disciples being sent into the world to shape and transform it?
Those are the only two questions we lucky clergy get to focus on when we go to the many cool events we experience. I think it must be that the long tradition of the church has found that these are the only two questions needed to frame all the other questions we encounter in life. We may think that there are a myriad of aspects, angles, and topics. But it really comes down to two. The only questions the church has ever been qualified to address; are we making disciples? And, are we changing the world? I believe with all my heart that when we do these two things we will find that we have done everything we need to do.
Shalom, Pastor Michael