As we hunkered over our computers and read our Twitter feeds tonight, what good did we do for God’s kingdom?
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39, NIV).
A commenter on a recent post reminded me of Acts 2:38.
It gave me some thoughts from a pastoral perspective.
Most of the men, women, and children in the two churches I serve have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter says that means they have received the Holy Spirit. The promise has been given to them, young and old, child and adult. Yes, even infants. The gift has been given.
Which means it is in there still. Like an ember smoldering, it is there, waiting to be stoked into a flame.
It is there in the members of the church who seem the most cold. It is there in the ones who seem to go out of their way to give Jesus a bad name. It is there in the ones who seem to have been so battered and bruised. It is there in the ones who seem on the outside like they have everything under control. It is there in the ones who bear the burden of keeping the church door open every Sunday.
The gift has been given, the Holy Spirit, waiting and working by slow degrees, ready to blaze forth.
Lord, put in my hands the bellows to blow those embers into flame.
A new resource has been created for those looking for Christian theology, reflection, and practice with a Wesleyan accent.
Here is the welcome post.
I know business lingo does not sit well with everyone, but this thought came to my mind today.
Customer value can be defined as the overall benefits received from a purchase after subtracting the price the customer has to pay for a product. A product that delivers lots of benefits, and these can be intangible things like prestige and a sense of well-being, can be priced higher and still be viewed by customers as a good value for the cost.
Okay, so drop all the language you don’t like in that example when thinking about church: customer, purchase, product, etc.
Here’s the question: Doesn’t this same equation describe the reason people do or do not find Christian discipleship worth the effort? They are engaging in a cost/value analysis, even if implicitly. Do the benefits of Christian discipleship outweigh the costs? When the answer to that question is “no,” they stop having any interest in serious discipleship.
In an earlier age, the church was pretty explicit in explaining the benefits: Heaven or Hell. And so the cost of discipleship, while high, was not close to value of the benefits.
This has always put pressure on the church to reduce the stakes, and so lower the cost. There is always a market for low-cost, Wal-Mart style religion. And such a thing is a good deal if there is such a thing as a second-rate heaven (or New Jerusalem) for those who bought on the bargain plan.
As we have wavered in our confidence about the stakes of Christian discipleship, we have found ourselves more and more trying to convince people to pay a cost for benefits that could be easily attained for less effort in other places. We say, “We can give you a sense of belonging and some spiritual awe and a community.” Well, it turns out, so can the local professional football team.
It is not irrelevant to the dynamism of the early Methodist movement that it preached and took seriously the idea of the coming wrath. It is not irrelevant that the early Christian church saw itself in a spiritual war with the powers of darkness. It helps explain, rather, why so many people — but still a tiny minority of the overall population — were willing to pay the price about which Jesus spoke to his disciples.
In the words of Paul, they accounted all things loss compared to the value of knowing Jesus Christ.
Can the church exalt the benefits of knowing Jesus, of following him, more persuasively? Would doing so change the tepid nature of much of our discipleship?
Dan Dick would really be a pretty interesting blogger if he got over his obsession with pleasing people and saying what they want to hear.
(That, by the way, was a joke.)
In his latest post, Shmoo Church, he writes that 85% of the membership of most congregations have no interest in actually being Christians.
85% of The United Methodist Church membership is passive, complacent, perfectly happy to sit in a pew (occasionally), be served (regularly) and otherwise be left alone (perpetually). The small head exists to serve the large bottom — the 15% at the top doing everything in its collective power to keep the 85% at the bottom happy, satisfied, and content. The energy in the church today moves from the most invested to the least invested. Is it any wonder, then, that new people seeking a life-transforming relationship with a world-transforming deity are less than thrilled with what they find?
Unless you did not catch the bite in that, here is his conclusion:
So, what’s the solution? A good first step is to admit we’re Shmoos and not tolerate it anymore. The complacent 85% can’t call the shots anymore. What do the 15% need? What will take the most engaged, most gifted, most passionate, most ready to the next level? What can we do to equip, enable, and empower the head to lead the tail? What can we do to shift the flow of energy and spirit from the bottom to the top? Prayer comes to mind, as does actually taking the gospel seriously for a change. A commitment to excellence and world-class performance wouldn’t hurt. Some standards, demands and accountability — actually expecting people to ACT like Jesus the Christ — might be fun. Taking our faith seriously as call and vocation for the priesthood of all believers instead of hobby and leisure activity when convenient could be interesting as well.
Dan has written this before and gotten a hail of “Amens!” in the comment section. Actually, I recall Dan in the past writing that 90% of Christians fall into the Shmoo category, not 85%. Maybe we are getting better.
It does appear that this is not a new problem. John Wesley’s ministry was more or less motivated by the same observations. Paul’s letters were often aimed at the same targets. The letters to the seven churches of Revelation sound a lot like Dan’s Shmoo churches.
Is there a way around this?
McCraken and more than one commenter make the point that the church needs to learn again how to actually make disciples. The statement got me thinking: Do we know how to be disciples?
Before John Wesley went out making disciples of Jesus Christ, and inventing along the way all the apparatus of Methodism, he spent years in his own intensive discipleship program. He was a disciple for a long time before he had any noticeable success in making disciples.
How many pastors — at any level — in the United Methodist Church right now are exemplary disciples of Jesus Christ? What are they hallmarks of their discipleship programs?
In a lot of ways, Methodism is just an application of John Wesley’s own spiritual practices to other people. If the discipleship practices he found edifying in the 18th century could be expanded to others, why can’t the discipleship practices that we pursue also be expanded?
The real problem behind that question is getting people to participate.
John Wesley did that by preaching wrath.
Most of us do it today by trying to adapt the marketing and management strategies of McDonald’s.
We can worry about these questions, though, later. First, we have to figure out how to make disciples. My proposal for this is first to figure out how to be disciples ourselves.
A current Presbyterian and former United Methodist reflects on the conversation started by Rachel Held Evans over Millennials. The writer observes that everything Evans says Millennials want is offered by the UMC already:
When I read the CNN piece it hit me: Evans is saying nothing particularly provocative nor even progressive; she simply represents a standard UMC critique of conservative evangelicalism. Given Evans’ presuppositions, I am not certain she could list a single objection to what the UMC believes and practices. For the record, I have nothing against the UMC, but I do find it odd if Millennials, who are leaving evangelicalism and passionately seeking the kind of church Evans describes, don’t join a mainline denomination like the United Methodist Church. The UMC embodies everything Evans says Millennials want.
The UMC is outside of the culture wars. It has no conflicts with science and faith andclearly teaches what they are for instead of against. The UMC is a place where LGBTfriends are welcomed. Moreover, if anyone knows anything about Wesleyanism, you know that Methodists have a deep emphasis on personal holiness and social action. Again, the Jesus that Evans wants to find is waiting for her and her followers in the UMC.
This leads the writer to conclude that Evans’ thesis must be wrong. If Millennials actually wanted what Evans describes, he argues, they’d be flocking to the UMC in droves.
I read comments all the time that I don’t understand. I don’t understand them because they generally come from Christians who are both intelligent and capable of empathy.
A person criticizes “contemporary” worship by saying the only thing the worship leader cares about is looking hip and being cool. Someone else argues that pastors today care about being “authentic” while previous generations did not. Another person says some Christians care more about hate than Jesus.
Shouldn’t Christians do a better job of listening to other people? (And here — in case there is any confusion — I include myself. Shouldn’t I do a better job?)
Is there really any worship leader who has as his or her primary goal “being hip”? Did pastors in 1930 want to be in-authentic? Would any Christian claim that his or her primary interest was in hating other people?
Every thing I’ve ever been taught about effective communication starts with listening. It starts with being able to hear a person clearly enough that we can state back to that person what they said in a way that they would recognize as their own words and meaning.
I think it is a close to universal desire of people to be listened to when they are trying to say something. Isn’t it — therefore — a Christian imperative to be good listeners? We do for others what we would wish them to do for us.
Listening does not require agreement. But does not Jesus require us to listen to each other?
Reading through Augustine’s The Confessions, I encountered in Book VIII this interesting example of fourth century argument from one who wished to remain spiritual but not religious.
Victorinus was in the habit of reading holy scriptures and intensively studying all the Christian writings, which he subjected to close scrutiny; and he would say to Simplicianus, not openly but in private, intimate conversation, “I am already a Christian, you know.” But the other always replied, “I will not believe that nor count you among Christians, until I see you in Christ’s Church.” Victorinus would chaff him: “It’s the walls that make Christians, then?” He would often talk like this, claiming that he was a Christian. Simplicianus often responded the same way, and Victorinus would frequently repeat his joke about walls.
Augustine goes one to recount that Victornius was afraid of upsetting his pagan friends who would be outraged if Victornius were to make public profession of his faith.
It is a reminder to me that leaving our homes and gathering in a public place to worship is not an inconsequential act. In our more and more secular culture, it might even be approaching the level of witness.
I hear people make the joke of Victorinus even today, often thinking they have discovered a clever new insight. I know men — more often men than women — who argue that they do not need to go to church to have a relationship with Jesus. I hear folks scoff at the notion of church walls being somehow important to being a Christian. And, of course, even in Victorinus’ case it was not really the walls. It was the community.
Augustine recounts the day Victorinus turned to his friend and asked him to go with him to church, because Victorinus wanted to be a Christian. Victorinus was enrolled in the catechumenate and eventually was ready for baptism. He climbed a platform in the presence of the entire church and professed his faith by reciting from memory the creed that had been given to him by the church.
In the fourth century they knew the objections and jokes that so any of us make today. They understood the public and communal nature of our faith. And when one pagan sinner stood up among them and said “Credo” they embraced him with joy.
Let me push back, John. I do think people would embrace a move to a more defined, clear, and challenging mission. I’ve been seeing that here at my church since we went to a required 10 week Wesleyan catechesis for new members (and existing ones at present) based on the General Rules, the expectation that all of our leaders and teachers will be involved in a discipling relationship with a group, and a culture that defines the Christian life via the Rule of Discipleship (Worship, Devotion, Justice, and Compassion). I put this in place with the blessing of my senior church leaders (we didn’t have a church vote on it) and while there was some initial resistance, we have had 130 people go through the ten week class since last September, we’ve sprouted 8 new covenant groups that came out of the class, and we have had no trouble getting leaders and teachers who are called and motivated because they have expectations. I knew that going this route would either result in what we have now, a church that is building a discipling culture, or it would result in me being re-appointed. I think people want to have the bar raised, to be part of something that matters, to put muscle and sinew on their faith. Most clergy, however, lack the will to put up with the initial pushback of the least committed Christians in the church. I believe a Wesleyan-style revival is possible because I’m seeing it happen here day by day. At a recent church visioning meeting, I asked the group what were the best strengths of the church. Their answer? We are focused on shaping people’s lives for the kingdom. We just have to overcome our fear and do it!