Posts Tagged ‘discernment’

Blessed be your name, God of Life:
you have made this world and placed us in it.
We live and love and work and play in your good creation.

Blessed by your name, God of Hope:
when we destroy your good creation,
you move to rescue and redeem it,
surprising us with newness we did not expect.

Blessed be your name, God of Love:
you invite us into the life of your Son, Jesus,
to dance to the rhythms of your grace.

Wake us up to your presence, O God,
powerfully creative
giving life that is stronger than death.

Give us eyes to see your reconciling work
and ears to hear your invitation to join in it
and hearts that turn away from the ways that do not give life.

Nudge us toward your holy mystery
and give us courage to trust your risky Way.

We ask these things in the name of Jesus
your Word made flesh
dwelling among us full of grace and truth;
and through the power of your Holy Spirit,
blowing where it will
with the energies of the age to come. Amen.


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In the posts that follow, I outline some of the core convictions from which I am working and about which I believe  “soul-stretching conversations” (Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass) need to happen. I recognize that these convictions will not be shared by many people in the United Church of Canada. I hope that they provide a starting point for the conversations since it is in the conversations that the way forward will be found. I also outline some of the implications of those convictions for the ways in which we train leadership in the church.


Conviction #3

3) The early church was not a new system of beliefs but a new community, an alternative society, into which people were called by the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the earliest confessions of faith in the Church was “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus is Lord and, therefore, Caesar, the empire, or other forms of power, are not. Jesus’ message included the declaration that in his person and in his work, the reign of God had begun: a new era, a new social order had arrived. The early church was not a new system of beliefs but a new community, an alternative society, into which people were called by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, “the reign of God launches an all-out attack on evil in all its manifestations. God’s reign arrives wherever Jesus overcomes the power of evil” (David Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 33), especially among the lowly, the despised, and those on the margins of society. Gathered by the Spirit at Pentecost, the Church is a unique social community that is a sign, witness, foretaste and servant of God’s transformative resurrection work in the world. Its purpose is that of “representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God. . . In its mission, the church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness and evil. . . The history of the world is not only a history of evil but also of love, a history in which the reign of God is being advanced through the work of the Spirit. Thus, in its missionary activity, the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation has already been operative secretly, through the Spirit” (Bosch, p. 391).
The mission of the church offers the reign of God in concrete forms. It invites people to allow the Spirit of Christ to adopt them into God’s story in place of the stories of consumerism, therapeutic moralism, technological mastery, or militarism.
Walter Brueggemann, in “Counterscript:  Living with the elusive God” (Christian Century, November 29, 2005, p. 22 – 28), describes the dominant script of our society as “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism: therapeutic referring to ‘the assumption that there is a product or a treatment or a process to counteract every ache and pain and discomfort and trouble so that life may be lived without inconvenience; technological meaning that every problem can be fixed, solved, made right through human ingenuity; consumerist describing the approach to living that turns everything (including humans) into a commodity that can be bought and sold; militarism that uses violence to protect and maintain our privilege”.

In order enact this countercultural alternative in its own life, the church will often be intentionally small so that it can offer authentic hospitality, reconciliation and healing. Its nature will be primarily relational rather than organizational so that there can be genuine accountability. It will be structured towards assisting its members to enter into Spirit-gifted service in the world.

Some Implications for Leadership Training

A)  In a church whose mission is about offering reconciliation, healing and hope to all people, the church will need to journey more and more deeply into the practice of communion — the words, the gestures, the practices that are strong enough to heal the divisions and conflicts that are part of relationships with other people. This means that the regular practice of the sacrament of Communion will take a central place in the life of the church. At the Table, the risen Lord feeds the church and gives it the strength it needs for its radical work. The vision for a world of peace where all people thrive in flourishing communities is renewed. The community receives Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation and grace in its own relationships so that it can offer those graces in a hurting world. Leaders in such a community will need to be working on their own healing. They will need skills and resources for guiding others in the art of forgiveness and reconciliation. Leadership training will need to be highly relational, including mentoring and coaching.

B)  God’s mission involves confronting the lies that the world tells people. The community will need to be led in developing the capacity for telling the truth to one another.

The leaders of a church will themselves need to be authentic in word and in deed.
C) Leaders will need to be trained to engage the scriptures so that they have the capacity to “discern the world anew according to the script of the Bible with particular attentiveness to the character of the Bible” (Walter Brueggemann, “That the World May Be Redescribed”, Interpretation, (October 2002), 360.)

They will need to be trained in what it takes to help people relinquish the powerful dominant scripts that are killing them and killing their communities.

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A reflection on Galatians 1
In a recent posting on Faith and Leadership, Will Willimon was commenting on Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton pushing for a constitutional amendment in Alabama that would allow legalized casinos. They said that there motivation was “jobs for casino workers in some of the state’s poorest counties”. Willimon wrote about the social devastation and corruption that casinos inevitably bring. Then, he reflected on “the peril of not being clear about the source of ministerial authority”.
It reminded me of Paul’s opening chapter in his letter to the Galatians. Paul spent 18 verses clearly setting out that his authority came from God’s call to him, not from any human authority. All the commentaries I have read on this chapter speculate that Paul was trying to establish his legitimacy in the minds of the Galatians. I wonder, though, whether or not he was also trying to keep clear for himself the source of his authority.
It is easy to lose sight of that source in ministry. For one thing, within a congregation, many people have different agendas for the minister. Trying to meet those agendas can leave very little time for prayer and for wrestling with the scriptures. It is a constant juggling act. Without a clear sense of what God has called one to be and to do in ministry, it is difficult to sort through all the demands and decide which ones to focus on and which ones to leave undone without feeling guilty.
The other challenge, however, comes from the diminishing authority and status of the clergy in the culture. When I was ordained 28 years ago, ordained ministers were held in relatively high regard in a community. I have seen that regard erode continuously over the years. The recurring scandals of clergy who have abused their authority have played some role in that. There is also a sense that clergy don’t do anything critically important or decisive. I remember talking with one woman about the levels of clergy compensation compared to other people with far less education. She commented, “Well, you have to take into account the importance of what they do.”
That lack of social regard can lead a minister to want to do something that affirms that what they do and who they are does have significance. That can also lead a minister to avoid doing some things that s/he fears would lead to diminished regard by others. For instance, I have seen clergy remain silent while someone has been treated unjustly because speaking out would jeopardize their own standing in the institution.
Another pressure comes from the cost of confronting corrupt systems. Part of the resistance to someone telling the truth comes in the form of an attack on the person who is raising uncomfortable questions. In such a situation, it is hard to remain free.
The first steps in Paul’s journey in freedom take him to the origins of his call and his authority. It’s God who sets the agenda. It’s God who gives authority and significance. Living the freedom that Christ gives means revisiting this regularly. I have found Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles enormously helpful in doing that.
While he acknowledges the pressures clergy are under to do many things, he reminds clergy of what is critical in their calling: the three practices of prayer, scripture and discernment. Without attention to those practices, the other activities don’t hold together. In all three, we re-direct our focus (which can get scattered in the press of the demands of the job) toward God.
Since the most decisive and determinative thing that’s going on in any situation is what God is up to, ‘working the angles’ becomes critical in staying on mission. I imagine it would still be possible to be mistaken in the stands we take on issues, since all of us are imperfect and discern God’s will imperfectly. But the focus on the three angles keeps a person open and creatively responsive to the work of the Holy Spirit. Walking in freedom becomes a matter of staying close to Jesus Christ who is our freedom.

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