Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 6, 2014
Mission, Part II
It’s an honor to spend time each week writing about the ways we put faith to work in the world, about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus these days. (I’m sure you all realize that often the preacher is preaching to himself.) It’s a greater honor that there are people who actually read the weekly message. And it’s an even greater honor that people write in response. I learn a lot from those comments, and I’m working on being a better learner.
I wrote last week about the mission of the church, and the mission of my life as a follower of Christ. I got interesting comments back. One person wrote with reflection on the state of the church these days, and the challenge of denominational identification. This person wrote: “We are all on the same team or should be but church dogma and focusing on who’s right not what’s right gets in the way.” He went on to say: “I’m not Episcopalian. I’m a flawed Christ follower who happens to hang at an Episcopal church. I know “leaders” of the Episcopal franchise have a duty to extend and preserve their unique tradition, but I’m not sure how that gets them or me closer to living like Jesus.” Challenging words to Episcopal clergy. I take it that the mission for my correspondent was a matter of getting closer to living like Jesus, not a bad mission statement. He sees, as I happen to believe, that the church is an instrument meant to bring God’s kingdom, meant to serve and heal, not an end in itself. He also notes that the church often falls short. He reminds me that it’s all about discipleship of Jesus. I’m grateful that he shared his perspective.
His is not the only point of view. As we’ve done work with parishes around the country through this new ministry with which I’m involved, we’ve recognized that people come to the Episcopal Church for all kinds of reasons. The culture of our denomination makes room for a variety of points of view, a variety of hopes and aspirations and needs. The work we do focused on spiritual vitality in congregations is largely concerned with generating conversation with congregants about their own spiritual journeys, their understanding of membership in a church, their understanding of a relationship with Christ, their take on discipleship. One person, in conversation about this work said: “I’ve been a member of this parish for 30 years, but I don’t self-identify as Christian.” Another said: “I don’t expect much to happen to me at church.” I find comments like these challenging, but helpful to hear, because as we think about the mission of the church, it’s important to recognize a variety of perspectives, all of which raises questions.
They are similar to the questions that appear in the introduction to a book that I think is really important. It is entitled People of the Way written by Dr. Dwight Zscheile, a quite bright young scholar who presently is helping the Episcopal Church reimagine the pathway forward. He gave a wonderful presentation at a town meeting at the National Cathedral last week, a great survey about what is distinctive about the Episcopal Church these days, about its distinctive call. In the introduction to his book, Dr. Zscheile captures the issue in these questions: What does it mean to be a disciple in today’s world? What does it mean to be a church member? Are they the same thing?
As you consider your own faith journey, does it unfold in the context of a faith community? Do you consider yourself a member of that community? How do you see that intersecting with your call as a follower of Jesus, a disciple? Are they the same thing? Where do they diverge? There are many ways to answer those questions. What will your answers be?
– Jay Sidebotham
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
-Prayer for a missionary, page 247 in the Book of Common Prayer.
Lord, you give the great commission: “Heal the sick and preach the word.” Lest the Church neglect its mission and the gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity; with the Spirit’s gifts empower us, for the work of ministry.
Stanza One from the text of Hymn 528 by Jeffery Rowthorn.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.