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Posts Tagged ‘Willimon’

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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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 worship life of congregations as they find their way into God’s mission.

1) Liturgia (Worship)

The nature of worship is changing. The Protestant Reformation gave us a liturgy whose main focus was the preaching of the Word. The sacraments were celebrated only occasionally. The Reformers stressed the need for an educated clergy as a response to the intellectual laxity of many medieval priests. “Protestant clergy were expected to be well schooled in the scriptures, in order to be servants of the Word(William WillimonPastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, chapter 1). Now many churches are recovering a balance between the preaching/hearing of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. Some Protestant churches are celebrating communion weekly and discovering a deepening and strengthening of faith in doing so. Christ gave the sacraments to the church as the way the Body of Christ is fed and nurtured in the grace and presence of God. Strengthening communities of faith will need to include finding faithful ways in which the sacraments can be received on a regular basis. In the United Church, sacraments elders are becoming more numerous, especially in situations where congregations are without Order of Ministry personnel for extended periods of time.

There is also, in many places, a turn away from liturgies that are heavily weighted toward the verbal. Leonard Sweet’s description of EPIC worship: experiential, participatory, image rich, and connected, is shaping worship services that engage the imagination through story-telling, drama, and the arts. Some churches are recovering the notion of the liturgy as “the work of the people”, not just of the performers at the front (choir and clergy). They are creating worship services that engage the whole person and the whole community. Crafting EPIC worship services requires different skills than our typical highly verbal worship. It is not done best as a solo effort. Leaders in worship will need to be trained for collaborative efforts that elicit the gifts of all the people of God.

Another emerging trend is the recognition that it is not enough that worship be entertaining and relevant. There is a “turn toward the formative”, challenging the worshiping community to grow in grace and to mature spiritually. Marva Dawn has named three fundamental criteria for what happens in worship:
*praising God and immersing worshipers “in the fullness of God’s splendour”,
*forming disciples who follow Jesus and “are committed to God’s purposes of peace, justice, and salvation in the world”, and
*building the community as the Body of Christ, “linked to all God’s people throughout time and space” (A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and being Church for the World , p. 343).

Shaping such worship services will challenge the consumer mentality that shapes much of North American congregational life and worship. Worship leaders need to be deeply immersed in the biblical story in order to acquire the countercultural lenses that reveal how our communities are caught by consumerism and narcissism.

Modernity privileged the rational over other ways of knowing and being. Post-modernity has recognized that there is a transcendental dimension that brings depth and richness to life. There is a turn toward worship services that help people attend to the holy in their midst.

There is also a recognition that the church gathered for worship is also the church sent out into the world. Congregations are looking for ways to make the link between the two phases of the community’s life stronger. People are being asked to speak in worship about their ministries in their lives the rest of the week. New attention is being given to the ‘sending’ portion of the liturgy.

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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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Recently I asked the congregation to remember their baptism throughout the week. I told them how the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, used to trace the sign of the cross on his forehead and remind himself, “I am a baptized person.” Doing so assured him of God’s presence and grace in every situation. I asked the congregation to try that all week and see what difference it made.
I had done a similar exercise in another congregation. People reported that this practice provided great comfort in some very difficult circumstances. Others said that it reminded them to live up to the standards of behaviour and speech that they cherished for themselves.
I suppose some thought it was foolish to do this. Or, maybe they were nervous about what it would mean to recall that God had claimed their lives long before they had any choice in the matter (since most were baptized as infants). At some level, people are aware that acknowledging the lordship of Jesus in their lives will challenge many of the commitments and practices that they are embracing.
It reminds me of something William Willimon wrote about baptism — that, often, we don’t accord baptism much importance in our liturgical practice or in our day-to-day living. To do so would require transformation. It is too dangerous.

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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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