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Posts Tagged ‘Hauerwas’

What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the communal life of congregations as they find their way into the new shape of God’s mission.

2) Koinonia (Community)

Christianity is a way of living out one’s spirituality that is inherently communal. It is a corporate way of living that is countercultural in a culture where spirituality is mostly privatized and individualized.

Churches are communities where people care for one another. Baptism incorporates each person into the Body of Christ, in which there is a sense of mutual responsibility of all Christians for one another. That means that pastoral care is the work of the whole people of God, not just ordered ministry personnel. Its focus is not just on the health and happiness of people but also on their souls. We care by pointing people toward the God who cares for them, in whose life is our light(William WillimonPastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, chapter 4). Pastoral care for people includes paying attention to the intrusions of God in their lives; inviting them to let God move them more deeply into the new world of God’s grace; shaping their vision and their hopes by the presence of the resurrected Christ. Leaders will need skills and training and wisdom in navigating relationships where the Holy Spirit is at work, taking people in new and unexpected directions.

The organizational structures with which most congregations operate were created to serve congregations of the 1950’s and 1960’s. These congregations had enough people with the time and energy and motivation to sit on numerous committees. Those structures are under pressure as the number of people available and willing to fill positions and work on the committees decreases. In many situations, conventional committees are no longer considered the best way to get work done. These realities can be both a challenge and a blessing. They can push communities of faith to figure out how to be structured for relationships rather than around organizational needs. There is renewed attention to ‘spiritual gifts’ as a way of encouraging, equipping, and releasing people into ministries for which they feel called and excited.

Among other things, this means that participatory, collaborative styles of leadership need to be cultivated. Top-down leadership deprives the baptized of their true authority. However, leading in collaborative and non-hierarchical ways is not easy. Training for leadership will require attention to the ways in which relationships are best nurtured.

It will also require attention to the ways people use power in Christian communities. Power is “one of the gifts God gives for the formation of good communities and good people” (Stanley Hauerwas, “What only the whole church can do).

Churches tend to avoid addressing issues of power. Individuals are often reluctant to take on positions of power. More and more frequently it seems, they can be persuaded to do so only if the positions of power are shared. Part of this may stem from a reluctance to take on another commitment of time and energy in very busy lives; however, it may be that some of this is rooted in people being uneasy about exercising power in a community that is ambivalent about it. Leaders will need training in exercising creative authority, in persuasion and in encouraging new initiatives from the bottom up. (Andy Crouch‘s book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power provides helpful insights into the faithful use of power.)

One of the great gifts of our culture is the diversity of cultures that are now part of our landscape. Indeed, there are many examples of mainline churches who were declining until a group of immigrants became part of the community and brought new life and joyfulness in the faith with them. As churches become less dominated by people who are white and middle-class, congregations are giving fresh attention to the radical hospitality that Jesus offers and what that means in their life together. Leaders are discovering new ways of helping the community of faith reach across cultural barriers.

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Scripture: Daniel 1: 1-21

Millard Fuller was a millionaire entrepreneur from Alabama. Rich but miserable, with his marriage on the rocks, he headed to Americus, Georgia where he became involved in an intentional Christian community, Koinonia Farm, under the leadership of Clarence Jordan. Jordan believed that Christians ought to take what Jesus said seriously. He believed that Christians ought to live out their commitment to Christ in very real and practical ways. That encounter with Jordan led Fuller to give away his personal fortune and found Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity is based on the simple premise that every persons on the planet deserves a decent place to live. Today, thousands of volunteers join in partnership with the working poor to build houses that the poor can afford to live in. Says Fuller, “You don’t have to be a Christian to live in one of our houses or to help us build one. But the fact is, the reason I do what I do, and so many of our volunteers do what they do, is that that we are being obedient to Jesus” (What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey, p. 243).

Being obedient to Jesus may not lead you to give away your personal fortune. However, it will probably lead to to live in ways that seem peculiar to others. Following Jesus will lead you to live ‘against the flow’.

Willimon and Hauerwas tell of a young man who was a bureaucrat in a state agency. On Laity Sunday in his church, he stood up and said that “he has to come to church because he has to be reminded that Christians do not lie. He has to be reminded of that because he said every day at his job, he is surrounded with lies and it is so hard to resist not becoming part of the system of lies. So, he comes each Sunday, in hopes of renewing his speech so he will not lie on the job. That may not contribute to my advancement, but I would rather be a Christian” (Where Resident Aliens Live, p. 108-109).

Imagine how difficult if must be for his co-workers to have someone among them who has made the peculiar decision that he will not lie.

The people of Israel were often considered peculiar because they refused to ‘go along to get along’ with others. They would not conform to the culture around them even when it would have been easier to do so. After the Babylonian armies had conquered Israel, they dragged the leadership of the country into exile. Then, Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, selected a group of Jewish boys and offered them the opportunity to be part of a three-year executive training programme. At the end of it, each of them would be guaranteed a position in the royal service.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the boys chosen for this special privilege. They were given new Babylonian names and began their training. However, when they went for their lunch break, they refused to break Jewish dietary laws. They were being offered Lobster Newburg and Pork Medallions and baked Alaska along with some martinis to help all that food go down. “No thanks,” they said. “We’ll stick with salad and water.” Everybody else said, “What are you doing? Don’t risk the opportunity of a lifetime! Eat a bit of shellfish. Enjoy the pork. Don’t make such a fuss about such a little thing. You don’t want trouble. Remember, we’re in exile in Babylon. The Babylonians are in charge. While in Babylon, eat as the Babylonians do.”

Daniel knew that what he ate was not just a ‘little thing’, even though it seemed to be. Jewish dietary laws were part of what it meant to be Jewish: you are what you eat. The Babylonians changing their diet was a way of forming their appetites. It was a way of shaping them in the Babylonian value system.

He also knew that the Babylonians were not really in charge, although they seemed to be. Daniel knew that “the Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into [King Nebuchadnezzar’s] power” (Daniel 1:2). Nebuchadnezzar thought that the had defeated Israel through his own superior military power. He thought that the victory was proof that he was a brilliant strategist. Not so says our text. The Lord let him win. The Lord let him take the temple treasures. The Lord let him take prisoners back home with him.  The Lord was God, even in exile. Daniel knew that, ultimately, his destiny lay with the Lord and not with Nebuchadnezzar.

The Book of Daniel begins by saying that the Lord let Babylon capture Israel. By the end of the book, within Daniel’s lifetime, Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, had captured Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was not that powerful, after all. Daniel had outlasted Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel was able to resist being seduced into conformity by those who promised success and power because he was clear about the authority to which he had to answer. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was. God’s power was not as visible as Nebuchadnezzar’s but it was more decisive. The Lord would have the final say. It was this faith, trust that this was the truth, that gave Daniel the courage to say, ‘No’, even under great pressure.

It is the most natural thing in the world to want to fit in, to ‘go with the flow’, to submit to people who seem to hold power and authority. We often do it with the best of intentions. We want to do well. We want our projects to succeed. But what is at stake is our very selves.

You find the courage to be different in the same way that Daniel did: you pay attention to the stories that remind you that God is present; the God’s authority is greater than any authority on earth. To God you are ultimately accountable. You gather with the people of God week by week to remember whose you are — who has claimed your life and your loyalty and your love. You gather week by week because the world would like you to forget the One who has claimed your life. You are easier to manipulate if you forget. From time to time, you renew your promise to Jesus to follow him, and you let God renew God’s promise in you to guide you in paths of holiness and truth.

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I just came across a great quotation in Stanley Hauerwas’ book Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified:
“The temptation is always to seek safety in past achievements in the hope that the courage that made those achievements possible will not be required of us.”

I wonder if that gives some insight into why so many people in the churches resist change. Is it a lack of courage? I certainly think that we have emphasized the ‘comfort’ aspect of Christian faith so much that many people do not even think about ‘courage’ as an elemental aspect of discipleship.

And, I wonder what it takes to instill or inspire courage in people?

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