In an earlier blog (click here) I wrote about the changing role of District Superintendent in United Methodism. It is certainly requiring all of us cabinet members to adapt and adjust from the "old ways" of superintending.
But in a larger picture, whether intended or not, it is preparing all of us for a major shift change in how we "do" church. As I learned from Gil Rendle last week, we church folks are in the midst of a shift that goes beyond even the most radical ideas we had in earlier times. Simply put: the organized church in America is no longer an established entity anymore. People aren't just going to come to church because it's what good people do - "good people" can and do get along without a church home. The world got bigger overnight, the word "community" got redefined overnight, and the institutional church didn't adapt. While the church is driving a 1957 Chevy, the world is driving a 2013 Honda Accord. The '57 Chevy is certainly cool-looking, nostalgic, and if you're a car enthusiast like me it's AWESOME. But if you're going on a long journey, would you rather drive it or the Honda Accord?
I think that's where we're at, Church.
I have no illusions that what is ahead is an easy task. In order to transform the church and our past way of thinking means a HUGE shift in just about everything we do. The transforming power of Jesus Christ and His message to us hasn't changed, but we have no adapted to the tools and methods of evangelism we need for today. The mission field changed. Our cultural mores and milieu have changed. There is as much community found on Facebook and other virtual gatherings than in person. We are a multi-ethnic and far less homogeneous culture than ever before. If we don't embrace change - DEEP change - we will slowly fade into an esoteric society.
It has to start with us: laity and clergy alike - the baptized. We have to live out the fact that God has claimed us and called us to be disciples. We have to quit teaching and preaching the means of grace, the simple rules left to us by church fathers and mothers, the tried and true disciplines of prayer and fasting - and start DOING them. Bishops and cabinets will have to be less tied to "salary sheets" and tenure when making pastoral appointments and see ALL appointments as MISSIONAL - putting gifts and abilities above tenure. As Gil Rendle has warned us, our "clients" are no longer churches and pastors - the MISSION FIELD is our client. If we're truly going to be missional, our clergy can no longer expect to be served by our congregations and our laity can no longer expect their clergy to simply keep them happy. Indeed, if clergy and laity are to lead together, both will find that we will be meddling in each others' lives and the lives of others. Being disciples means living a higher standard and expecting greater things. It also means that we adopt the shift toward making disciples rather than making "members." Membership in the Church doesn't have its privileges; it has responsibilities.
EVERYTHING we do must be geared toward mission, and should be - not just for institutional survival and relevance, but to fulfill our Great Commission, which is missional and not institutional: Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The institution is a TOOL, but it's not the end-all.
It means some really rough and tough work is ahead. We are going to have to ask some churches if they aren't willing to be missional outposts who cultivate and make disciples, what then is your role? We are going to have to ask some clergy if they aren't willing to be missionaries and spiritual leaders, what then is your calling? Both are going to have to sort out the difference between purpose and preference. The institution is going to have to wrestle with trust and regain it by living with integrity and purpose while doing so in the midst of tough and radical shifts in purpose, functioning, and action. I know as a district superintendent/chief missional strategist, I have to lead and be faithful and not count the costs. So much for the thought of being a D.S. means "I have arrived..." I feel like Elisha; part of me honored to have the mantle placed upon me. However, the other part of me says, "That's it?!?! Just an old blanket?!?!? What the...."
Bishop Will Willimon says that there is no better job in the world than to be an elder in the United Methodist Church. I'd go further: there is no better job in the world than being a disciple of Jesus Christ. By our baptism, we are ordained for ministry in this world, given all the gifts we need by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Can we let go of what was to be what God wants us to be - not for ourselves, but for others? Can we give up what we used to think of as sacred and holy to go out into the mission field to do what is essential and faithful? We can only if we believe that Jesus Christ is our source of hope, and instead of panic we embrace maturity, non-anxiety, and calm. What we are about to embark on will be disruptive - transforming churches and congregations is the most difficult thing we will ever do, and embracing the mindset that we do not exist for our members but for the world is going to be a hard task indeed. But we can no longer remain cloistered, huddled together out of fear of change. If we want to have a faithful presence in the world, and indeed dare to transform it, worship on Sunday morning just won't get it.
If we'll think about it being about relationships instead of membership - I think that will get us on the right path.
We can do this, Church.