Monday, March 24, 2014

Rediscovering Our Purpose as Discipling Communities

"The purpose of 
the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is 
to challenge, encourage, and equip 
worshiping communities of faith 
to make disciples of Jesus Christ 
with the gifts God gives them."  

Toward Presbytery's purpose of equipping for making disciples of Jesus Christ, consider this quote from  Rick Rouse and Craig Van Gelder's book:   "A Field Guide for the Missional Congregation: Embarking on a Journey of Transformation," Augsburg Fortress (c) 2008, pp. 60-61)  

"The missional congregation finds it's purpose grounded in God's mission--living for the sake of the world as it participates in God's redemptive ministry of reconciliation for all creation.  Within this identity people are invited to make life-changing commitments as they discover the grace of God in becoming modern-day disciples of Jesus Christ.  The missional congregation understands baptism as a call to vocational service of God and others, an ordination into ministry in daily life.  The missional congregation is serious about cultivating committed disciples for Jesus instead of just adding more members to the institutional church.  Congregations that focus on discipleship are:
  • not as concerned about numbers; and more concerned with how well people are living their faith and sharing the gospel.
  • not as concerned about how well we care for members; and more concerned with how we serve needs in the world around us.
  • not as concerned about maintaining institution (structure); and more concerned with empowering people for ministry.
  • not as concerned about preserving facilities (ownership); and more concerned with offering them as a gift to our community.
"What if congregations in the United States were to rediscover their purpose as discipling communities?  What if every congregation reordered its priorities for ministry with the primary focus on helping these communities of faith grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ in order to live out a discipleship that was for the sake of the world?" 

Those of you who are learning polarity thinking will recognize this as either/thinking.  This is a not a problem to be solve, but a polarity (Inreach and Outreach) to be managed.  This is a both/and.  The unhealthy cycle many of us have been stuck in, is a laser inward focus on caring for self, the needs of our members, our buildings, our institution.  As our numbers diminish and urgency strikes, our motivation is to grow large enough to make us feel good again about our congregation, our presbytery, our denomination.  Our sense of urgency may be self serving, real and appropriate, but our motivation which will sustain our efforts must be something more!  That something more, I believe, comes from our core identity as disciples of Jesus Christ, baptized to new life in Christ and called make disciples.  Jesus in his person, brought near the realm of God,  the kingdom of heaven, incarnating, making real and present the love of God  to those he encountered. As a disciple of Jesus, I understand my calling is to do likewise.  Our collective acts of loving kindness, mercy, justice likewise brings God's kingdom near.  Not perfectly, but through God's grace, transformative.  This is who we are, disciples of Jesus. Any anxiety of our identity dies in our baptism, and secured in our rising with Christ.  Our Lenten Journey ends in Easter Celebration:  Resurrection.  


Monday, March 10, 2014

Son of God, the Movie

The new movie, "Son of God," is now showing in cinemas.  I saw it this past weekend. The actor portraying Jesus didn't look very middle eastern....and the flogging and crucifixion were gruesome, but not nearly as extreme as Gibson's "Passion of Christ" was.  It is a faithful telling of the gospel story told with all the skills of a 21st century movie maker.  I loved the tight editing.  The Apostle John narrates the story.  The movie shares John's point of view, that Jesus is the eternal Word, the Son of God, whose miracles are signs of this truth, that Jesus was the paschal lamb, who died for the sins of the world.

As the first gospel writers and redactors did, this movie maker takes Jesus's words we know in one scene in scripture and puts them in Jesus' mouth in other settings.  Such as in the call story of Peter.  Brother Andrew and then James and John and father Zebedee are absent in the scene as this movie explores imaginatively what that scene might have been like.  Another story we know elsewhere in scripture, when Jesus meets Peter at the end of a disappointing day of fishing, is used to convey Peter's call.  Jesus wades out to the boat and climbs in and quickly Peter pulls in an unexpected huge catch.  Then Jesus says, "Follow me, I will make you a catcher of people."  Peter follows because of Jesus' extraordinary power.  As I ponder Peter's call story in scripture, I imagine Peter dropping his fishing nets and following, because of Jesus' authority, perhaps also because of what he had heard about him, but most of all because of his extraordinary loving manner with people, "his way," as Peter speaks of it later in the movie.

The first disciples called themselves not so much a church, but "people of the way," the way of Jesus.   That resonates with me as I ponder the emerging nature of the church today, and the purpose of Lake Michigan Presbytery.  "The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives them."   The movie scene which most dramatically portrayed this "way" in the movie for me was the call of Matthew, a tax collector.  Matthew's eyes rimmed with tears as Jesus approached him.  Sitting at his tax collecting table lonely in a crowd of people, shamed for his benefiting from the empire's tax burden on his neighbors, Jesus loving gaze at Matthew without a word communicated understanding, compassion, forgiving love.  Matthew's eyes filled with tears and over flowed, as he leaves the tax table to follow Jesus.  That scene is worth the price of admission!  

Who in your community, like Matthew, is starved for love?  How do you need to grow as a disciple to encounter such a person and show such love that does not need words.  Our colleagues serving as chaplains in hospitals, nursing homes, the military, and with hospice are on the front lines of such heart to heart encounters.  Pray for them.  Pray also for God to open our hearts to recognize love starved people we meet in our daily activities outside the walls of our sanctuaries. Disciple making is not a program.  It is a way of living and encountering others in the way of Jesus with the amazing life transforming love of God.

Deep Peace of Christ,


"The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is 
to challenge, encourage, and equip worshiping communities of faith 
to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives them."