Embodying God’s love one small step at a time

It is often said that God is love and to know God is to embody love. However, sometimes we get all caught up in the grandiosity of that love and the challenge of being like Christ.

high jumpMartin Luther, John Wesley and so many other religious figures throughout history have beaten themselves up over their inability to live up to the high ideals they believed God wanted out of them. They had tried and tried to live according to their understanding of Christ’s teachings and discovered their own inability to maintain course and receive a sense of affirmation from God that they were holy.

Sometimes we want to focus on the great things we want to accomplish for God or the great sign we expect to receive from God and we miss out on the many small steps and signs from God that could be reached each day.

I struggled during my seminary internship. I wanted to do great things. When I didn’t, I felt depressed. My supervisor pointed out that I was too focused on that record-setting high bar. I was staring up at it so much that I didn’t see that I had already jumped over a bar higher than anything else I had jumped over.

I can do so much for God, but I risk quitting if I don’t celebrate the achievements I make along the way. So much has happened in my ministry that I rejoice in all the ways I’ve made a difference. I want to encourage you to be out there, embodying God’s love as well.

Keep on taking steps. Keep on making jumps. We all need practice to move onto perfection.

Can we fulfill the mission by giving up the organization?

Resurrection Downtown

A historic church in downtown Kansas City, Mo., turned over its building to the thriving United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. (UMNS photo by Fred Koenig)

I am a part of multiple membership organizations. Each strives to strengthen its members and each relies on those members to continue the organization.

Sometimes, though, we must give up the organization in order to maintain the mission of building up the membership.

This can be seen in a variety of service and learning clubs, churches and even sub-groups within churches. When the membership no longer has the energy to maintain the organizational structure, it is better to give up the structure than to force the members to expend so much energy that they end up burning out and giving up on the mission completely.

Organizations should not expect a small number of people to do all the work of organizational maintenance, particularly when the mission of the organization is to support those same people who it is expecting to do all of the work. An organization cannot support a person, when that person basically IS the organization.

How, then, will the people find support without the organization?

Most of the organizations I am referring to have multiple branches. When one branch folds, another takes on its work.

Let those who need a break from being a leader join with another group that already has leadership. In this way the mission continues.

Of course, sometimes the next nearest organization with the same mission is far away. In these situations there may need to be more of an effort to maintain the organization.

Such an organization may be able to obtain some assistance from outside of their area, but it may also need to take a break and then re-organize at a later date.

I am in love with non-profit organizations, and I want to see them succeed in fulfilling their missions. However, any organization will fail if it keeps pushing its leaders until those leaders want nothing more to do with the organization.

How are you rotating leadership in your organization so that no one burns out? When have you made the decision to fold your group into another in order to continue the mission and support your members?

Churches Should Support the Newly Married

Wedding Couple

Marriage is just the beginning.

Marriage ministry should not be limited to premarital and divorce counseling. The church needs to support couples as they stumble together through years of marriage following the wedding day. Surely a stronger relationship between spouses based on faith will reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of divorce.

Soon I’ll be celebrating my fourth wedding anniversary. I am looking forward to it and the 44+ anniversaries we will have after this. However, I know like any couple who does not live in a fantasy world that marriage is not easy. It would have been nice to have had one or more other couples not related to us to talk with, particularly during the first couple years of marriage. Surely there would have been value in relationships with either long-time married couples or those who were married around the same time. The time could have been used for gaining wisdom from many trials spent together or for mutual support from peers at the same point in the partnership journey.

In any case, the church is a wonderful place to provide support. It grows right out of premarital counseling programs and continues after the couple returns from the honeymoon. Some churches do have programs for new couples. Interpreter Magazine highlighted some of these in its May-June issue. I am excited about them. Such support will help the new couples continue their relationship with the church in the years between marriage and when they bring their kids to be baptized. It can also be an extension of the ministry to young adults, though many new couples are no longer young adults. My wife and I were in our 30s when we got married, and many other couples we know were older.

The wedding ceremony is a valuable service of worship when held in the local church. It should not be the churches only connection to marriage. We ask in the wedding service for God to be present in the marriage, so the church should continue its relationship with the couple afterward to strengthen the couple’s connection with God and each other. Please share in the comments what your church is doing to support those who are recently married.

Sharing Good News When Rain Comes Down

Nashville Flooding in May 2010.

People in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as Michigan have homes underwater.

Ministry is a challenging thing. I’m sitting here at the 2010 Detroit Annual Conference. Granted, Michigan is one of the United States in the worst economic situation. The church struggles in this midst, but we cannot use it as an excuse. We must reach out to spread the Good News.

There are plenty of people here in Michigan and throughout the United States who need to hear that there is Good News even in tough economic times. Christ came with Good News in a difficult time for the Jewish people living in a Roman-controlled land. The Good News still needs to be spread today. We need to live out the church. We need to show people what Good News looks like.

I live in Nashville, Tennessee, even though I am a member of the Detroit Conference in Michigan. Recently we set the record for the most rains in a month, most of it coming down in a two-day period. Floods came upon us. More than 20 people died in the state. Hundreds, if not thousands, are out of their homes. However, the church and many others are coming to help clean out the mess the floods have left. It is wonderful to see how people came from long distances to enter in homes where mold and mildew are fast growing.

How do the people see the church? Where is the Good News? I see it in the coming together of God’s people even when they have yet to learn each other’s names. Thanks be to God.

How Can One Take Risks in Mission and Service?

feeding

Volunteers at Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver serve lunch three days a week to the city's growing homeless population. (UMNS)

I am excited to see more “risk-taking mission and service“; however, the church continues to hold many people back. The church will best succeed in developing “fruitful congregations” if it supports those with a desire to reach out into the community and the world.

Risk-taking mission and service is the fourth of Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. It is an area that I yearn to grow in. Perhaps that is why when as a college student I spent six months in Kenya. While at the time I was afraid to travel the country on my own, Kalamazoo College gave me the opportunity to be a part of a study abroad program that provided opportunities to live in different parts of the country. It was this experience that opened my eyes to the world and the need to build greater connection between peoples.

However, one does not need to travel the world in order to engage in risk-taking mission and service. There are plenty of opportunities for service in our local communities. Cold weather months will soon be upon us if they are not already in your neighborhood. Many churches open their doors to the homeless and provide a warm place to spend the night as well as three meals. Hillcrest UMC in Nashville, Tenn., where I attend, is one of those places that welcomes guests once each week. In partnership with other congregations, all nights of the week are covered. Volunteers are needed to prepare meals and stay the night with the guests.

I have helped in this program when attending Belmont UMC, also in Nashville. It is a good way to sit down and have a conversation with persons you may not otherwise be able to talk to. Sitting around a dinner table is a much more comfortable place to engage in this conversation then on the streets. However, I want to warn you about the risks. You may learn about other areas where your service is needed. Don’t be afraid. Gather others in your congregation and engage in mission.

Following the Five Practices of Fruitful Congrgations

United Methodist bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Area has written a popular book about strengthening local churches, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Many congregations and regional conferences have used this as the basis for rethinking how they do ministry. The local church where I worship is no different. For the past five weeks, we have been going through the book and taking personal time to reflect on our own congregation. I want to share with you some of the ideas that came to my head.

First off, let me mention what these five practices are:

Schnase says that the point in having these five practices is to “give congregations a common language.” As a Christian communicator, I understand that a common language is important to conveying the message. Five practices are simple enough for church members to get their heads around and still have choice as to what areas they could best focus on.

The bishop further goes on to say that the adjectives used with each of these practices could be interchanged. Yet, the important thing is that we should take a step beyond what is typical. Hospitality, worship, faith development, mission and service and generosity are all important; however, we need to take them to a higher level where the emphases become much more obvious in our lives.

Please join me in the conversation here as I explore each of these practices of fruitful congregations and feel free to check out Bishop Schnase’s own five practices blog. Together we can transform the church and the world as we devote ourselves to the teachings of Christ.

Public Relations and the Church

While the PR world is trying to figure out how to deal with the new public relations landscape, what I want to explore is how do we share the good news of the church without compromising the message? That is, how do we continue with our mission all the while spreading the message to a wider audience. Name-dropping may help get more people to listen to you, but does it then lead to more of a focus on the names instead of the message?

Where can we find a conversation on this subject? I don’t really see it among institutional church communicators since the institutions then become the names that are dropped. We need to move beyond names of both institutions and individuals, save the name of Jesus Christ.

Did not Paul warn of this (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)? Paul even says we do not need “eloquent wisdom.” The power of the message is with God. Therefore, if we do God’s work in our spreading of the message, it shall be heard.

I am certainly guilty of name dropping, both of institutions and individuals. However those names do not help me build up disciples for Jesus Christ. In some cases name dropping even hurts me. Some people are turned off by the names including, perhaps, the name of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless these same people may be moved by seeing and hearing how God’s love is lived out in our lives.

Therefore I hope to share my life more and to live my life more according to the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is in the Spirit that I will find the message flowing on the wind to all who will hear.